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Upshur County Sheriff Mike Coffman presents the Upshur County Sheriff's Office annual report for the 2023 calendar year. (Photo by Monica Zalaznik)

Upshur sheriff delivers 2023 annual report, discusses dangers of fentanyl, xylazine

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Sheriff highlighted a series of local crime-related statistics from 2023 and discussed how fentanyl and a new, dangerous tranquilizer have changed drug trafficking in recent years.

Sheriff Mike Coffman attended the Feb. 1 Upshur County Commission meeting to present the Upshur County Sheriff Office’s Activity Report and the Mountain Region Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force’s Summary of Activity for calendar year 2023.

“I don’t think we’ve done this before to my knowledge, but I wanted to give you a breakdown from the drug task force, which is made up of nine counties, and we’re one of the counties that is a member of that task force,” Coffman said. “We also have officers dedicated to the task force full time and then we have a part-time officer in the K-9 unit that is used for search warrants and things when needed.”

Coffman said the task force allows the participating counties to tackle the continuing drug problem throughout the state more efficiently.

“We’re all working together to try to combat the problem and we’ve contributed not only manpower, but we’ve also contributed to their resources as well, so they’re appreciative of that,” Coffman said. “Randolph County did join the federal program High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which brings in a lot of money to combat the drug problem and that’s where the federal agents we have been working with come from.”

The Upshur County Sheriff’s Department is looking into applying for HIDTA for 2024.

“That will help us a lot – that opens up a lot of resources for equipment, plus overtime capabilities,” Coffman said. “It is hard to get in; they look at domestic violence numbers, they look at all kinds of numbers, not just drug numbers, prosecution cases and more, so there’s a lot of things they look for, not just drug arrests or things like that.”

“I think we stand a pretty good shot because we’re probably one of the busier counties in the task force,” the sheriff added.

The commissioners asked Coffman which illegal substances he and his officers encounter most frequently.

“Of course, methamphetamine and then fentanyl, and we have to assume everything is laced with fentanyl these days, and then, of course, we have the new drug xylazine, which was originally used in veterinarian offices,” Coffman said. “It’s bad; Narcan doesn’t work on that, and people get this zombie effect. We have seen a couple of cases here already. I think there were two cases identified here, and that’s been very recently – maybe in the last couple of months – so we’re going to start seeing more and more of that.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, xylazine – also referred to as “tranq” – is a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use that has been linked to an increasing number of overdose deaths nationwide. Narcan, an opioid antagonist, does not work to counteract the effects of xylazine because the drug is classified as a non-opiate sedative, analgesic and muscle relaxant, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says.

Coffman said most of the drugs they find originated in other countries, specifically Mexico.

“Mexico is where most of the drugs come from because they are so much cheaper,” he said. “We used to have the big meth labs here, but you don’t see that anymore because it’s all cheaper and easier to get it from other countries. It’s typically coming from Mexico, the cartels, so that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Statistics presented by Sheriff Mike Coffman:

The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office brought 2023 to a close with the following yearly activity:

  • Misdemeanor arrests – 599
  • Felony arrests – 159
  • Federal arrests – 8
  • Criminal reports completed (misdemeanor) – 153
  • Criminal reports completed (felony) – 98
  • Accidents responded to – 149
  • Traffic citations issued – 387
  • Traffic warnings issued – 358
  • Inmate transports – 285 totaling 15,590.20 miles
  • Mental hygiene pickups and transports –11
  • Total miles traveled – 205,252
  • Processes served – 1,937
  • Emergency protection orders served – 81
  • Bailiff hours – 1,974.50
Pictured, from left, are Upshur County Commission President Sam Nolte, Sheriff Mike Coffman, Chief Prevention Resource Officer for Upshur County elementary schools Danny Sears, Commissioner Kristie Tenney and Commissioner Doug Bush. (Photo by Monica Zalaznik)

In other county news, the commissioners approved a transfer request for Danny Sears from Court Security Supervisor to Chief Prevention Resource Officer for the Upshur County Elementary Schools in a temporary capacity, effective Feb. 4, 2024, through Dec. 31, 2024.

Upon approval, Sears will be paid under the guidelines set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding with the Upshur County Board of Education.

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