Lake Erie: Open Door for Drug Traffickers?

Sonney and House Republican Drug Task Force Hear This and Other Concerns 

Illegal drugs are shipped across Lake Erie from Canada, enter Erie County and law enforcement personnel don’t learn about it until the drugs show up on the street.  That’s what Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Harborcreek) and the House Republican Policy Committee learned during a hearing Tuesday morning at Penn State Behrend. 

The information came from Denis Tobin, regional director with the Bureau of Narcotics and Drug Control with the state Attorney General’s Office. 

“There is no drug intervention whatsoever on Lake Erie," Tobin said.  “We don’t know about the drugs until they show up on the street." 

Sonney said the comment shows the need for more action by state and federal authorities to help local communities combat drug problems. 

“We need our federal government to step up efforts to protect our citizens from international drug trafficking," Sonney said.  “The United States has a southern and a northern border, and we need to defend both." 

In addition to the problem with drugs coming across Lake Erie from Canada, Tobin highlighted the increase in methamphetamine shipments that originate in Mexico and arrive in Erie. 

“We have methamphetamine coming in from Mexico to Northwest Pennsylvania and it’s a purer form know as crystal meth," Tobin said. 

The issue of more funding for drug courts, drug task forces and drug treatment were also discussed at Tuesday’s hearing. 

This was the fifth in a series of hearings the House Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), has held on the topic of drug enforcement policies.  Previous hearings were held in Williamsport, Kittanning, Norristown and Midland.

Sonney hosted the hearing and co-chaired it with Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Indiana/Armstrong).  Pyle is the chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee’s Drug Enforcement Task Force. 

“I consider drugs the enemy within our state’s borders," Pyle said.  “The drug problem in this Commonwealth is a serious concern.  I’m grateful to those experts who agreed to talk with us today on how we can all better combat this problem." 

Also in attendance were Reps. Martin Causer (R-McKean), Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny) and Craig Dally (R-Northampton). 

Testimony was heard from prosecution, law enforcement and treatment panels.   

Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk’s testimony focused on the negative impact that a lack of funding has had on his office’s ability to fight the war on drugs.  He said that historically, 70 percent to 80 percent of all crime is either directly or indirectly drug related. 

“In the war on drugs, we have a lot of generals but we sure could use some more soldiers and some more armor," Foulk said. 

The need for increased funding was a common theme for each panel of testifiers. 

“Due to lack of funding, we have to prioritize narcotics investigations and decide which one is more important to investigate," Tobin said.  “We should never have to do that.  Cases should never have to be prioritized; they all deserve to be investigated." 

Jeff Shaw, deputy director of Erie County Adult Probation, said that increased funding would better enable the county to fund drug courts and decrease the demand for drugs. 

According to the Treatment Research Institute, illegal drug use cost taxpayers $168 billion in treatment, lost productivity, criminal justice and health care in 2004. 

Shaw said that drug courts hold the individual accountable for their actions through supervision and structure.   

Both Foulk and Tobin agreed that additional funding is needed, not only to employ and fund drug task forces and drug courts, but also to better train law enforcement officers on new drug trends.   

Wendy McCullough, program director of Pyramid Health Care, said that another issue which must be faced is treatment.  She said that there are few places for adolescents to go to detoxification from drugs.   

“Treatment should be continuous," McCullough said.  “Often, the treatment programs that are offered are not long enough to sufficiently treat addicts," she added. 

“The hearings that we’ve held throughout the state have provided invaluable information on the state of Pennsylvania’s drug problem," Turzai said.  “Today’s testifiers gave us detailed examples of how drugs are infiltrating our communities and homes.  They provided us with several areas that need to be improved, as well as with tangible solutions that we can help to implement on the state level." 

Rep. Curt Sonney
4th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(717) 783-9087
(814) 664-9126
Contact:  Dan Massing
 House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9845