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By CHERYL DUNCAN
Rockwood police spent the better part of the weekend rounding up and arresting almost 50 people suspected of selling and distributing drugs.
The arrests are the culmination of a six-month undercover operation in which Josh Rymer, drug investigator for the Rockwood Police Department, worked with a confidential informant, said Rockwood Police Chief Bill Stinnett.
A Roane County grand jury returned true bills in the cases late last week.
“During this operation, we were able to indict 45 individuals,” Stinnett said Friday. “At this time, I’d say we’ve already picked up 23-25 individuals.”
The apprehensions started at about 8 a.m. Friday. Police also seized seven vehicles.
Arrests were still under way at press time. Those who had been arrested on drug charges and processed at the Roane County Jail at that point were Pamela Coulter, Deborah Gail Haga, Lonnie James Haire, Jovan Ivy, Kimberly Marlow, Elizabeth Diana Seiber, Charles Robert Ward and Shawn Fitzgerald Wright.
“We’ll be looking through the weekend, trying to get as many as we can,” Stinnett said.
Stinnett said Rymer’s investigation revealed that out-of-town clinics were at the heart of a number of the drug cases.
“Most of the stuff is from pain management clinics,” Stinnett said.
The chief explained that his officers learned suspects would travel to Florida to visit these clinics, pay for testing such as MRIs, and obtain several prescriptions for narcotic pain medications.
The suspects would then return to Rockwood with medications such as OxyContin and oxycodone and sell them for $1 a milligram, Stinnett said.
A release from District Attorney General Russell Johnson’s office said the investigation showed that individuals would often go to the clinics in groups, and sometimes even by bus.
They would stay overnight to establish a doctor-patient relationship with the clinic doctor and have the prescriptions filled at a pharmacy associated with the same clinic.
“This is a problem that has attracted national attention, and federal law enforcement authorities are looking into the problem,” the release said.
Johnson added that he is contacting Congressional representatives and asking them to address the situation through legislation.
Stinnett and Johnson added that the investigation revealed some of the cases involved medications obtained at a methadone clinic in Chattanooga.
Some of these individuals, according to Johnson’s release, “are already addicted to pain medication or other illegal narcotics who are legitimately going to a methadone clinic in Chattanooga to obtain methadone wafers to treat their drug addiction.”
The release added, “The problem for Rockwood and many other areas in East Tennessee is that these individuals will, in turn, sell or trade their methadone wafers in order to make money or obtain oxycodone and other pain medication that they were addicted to in the first place.”
Those rounded up and arrested on the indictments are due to go before Criminal Court Judge E. Eugene Eblen for arraignment on Monday.