COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Delayed several months by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drug Enforcement Administration is now moving forward with a strategic initiative to address the problem of substance abuse. 

Central Ohio is now the 17th site where the DEA will implement its comprehensive Operation 360 initiative to address prescription drug misuse, poly substance abuse and violent crime. 

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mauricio Jimenez says it’s not an attempt to create something new; it’s about providing support through community outreach.

“We want to help the community, to empower the community,” Jimenez said. “We’re trying to empower these organizations that are helping in our community. We want to be part of the solution. That’s all it is.”

Central Ohio 360 is a comprehensive three-pronged approach that includes community outreach, diversion control and law enforcement coordination. In a news release announcing the initiative, the DEA says, “By partnering with other federal, state and local government agencies and law enforcement, we can work together to eliminate drug trafficking organizations and gangs fueling violence.”

Jimenez says COVID-19 has changed the drug abuse landscape. He says prior to the pandemic, there was evidence of a massive increase in the distribution and use of methamphetamines laced with fentanyl.

“Since COVID, the borders have been shut down so the availability of  methamphetamine and cocaine have dwindled however fentanyl has stayed the same,” Jimenez said. “We can only guess as to why that is. My opinion is that fenatnyl is so powerful that you can make it stretch longer than you would methamphetamine and cocaine.”

The Franklin County Coroner announced in August that overdose deaths are up 65 percent compared to 2019.

Jimenez says Central Ohio 360 will incorporate faith-based initiatives, work to provide existing outreach programs with training and resources, support and help promote public messaging and assist grassroots movements such as Project F.O.R.T and RREACT within each community.

“Our goal is to empower Central Ohio communities to be part of the solution, and give hope to young people and enable them to make better choices for a healthier and happier life,” said Jimenez.