Region law enforcement seized more than $19 million in drugs and assets in 2011, according to a report by the Lake County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The Lake County HIDTA, which encompasses Lake and Porter counties, is a collaboration of federal, state and local agencies to disrupt and dismantle illegal drug operations. Its initiatives are funded by federal grant dollars.
In 2011, HIDTA reported seizing $8.45 worth of drugs and assets for every dollar it budgeted. HIDTA's return on investment has exceeded its expenditures every year since 2006, according to its most recent annual report.
It's annual budget is more than $3 million.
"HIDTA is just another avenue that we have to keep up the fight on the tremendous weight of substance abuse that everyone is saddled with," Porter County Sheriff David Lain said. "It's not a problem with Northwest Indiana. It's not a problem with Indiana. It's a national epidemic."
Marijuana and powdered cocaine are the most prevalent drugs abused in the region, according to HIDTA's 2011 report. Heroin, crack cocaine and Ecstasy also are present in significant amounts, the report states.
Lain said joining HIDTA in 2011 gave Porter County another weapon in its battle against illicit drug trafficking. The agencies involved in HIDTA share information about gang and drug activity.
Chuck Porucznik, executive director of the Lake County HIDTA, said the "backbone" of the agency is a term they call "deconfliction" -- the sharing of information among agencies to keep law enforcement from running into each other.
For example, a Gary police officer may be targeting a particular house that HIDTA or federal agents already have on their radar.
"The ultimate goal is to stop the illicit drug trafficking, even though I know that's an impossible task," Lain said. "Each case is a victory. Each time we make any inroads, we may be interrupting the flow of illegal substances and prevent another overdose death. We don't know how many people we're saving, but we know if we don't try, we won't save any of them."
Among the successes the HIDTA listed in its 2011 report:
- More than 20 alleged members and associates of the Latin Kings gang were federally indicted amid accusations they participated in a racketeering conspiracy that resulted in 19 alleged murders in three states and distributed millions of dollars of drugs throughout Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area. The Gang Response Investigative Team and Firearms Interdiction Regional Enforcement handled that investigation with some Chicago-based agencies.
- Alleged members of the East Chicago-based Imperial Gangsters also were federally indicted. The defendants are accused of crimes including murder, attempted murder and drug trafficking.
- Officers involved in the Domestic Highway Enforcement initiative seized 79.5 kilograms of marijuana and $616,349 of cash and assets in 2011.
- Agents with the Lake County Combined Task Force and Hotel Interdiction Truck Stops seized 475.9 kilograms of marijuana, $145,087 and five vehicles in January 2011.
- Agents involved in the Marshal's Fugitive Task Force arrested 899 fugitives last year.
Beyond the enforcement, Porucznik said there needs to be an emphasis on drug treatment and prevention to reduce drug abuse.
"Our drug problem in these counties will stay pretty consistent until we find a way to keep people from trying drugs," he said.