A lengthy federal probe into prescription drug trafficking to high school students in the Southtowns today resulted in criminal charges against 16 people.
Investigators turned up evidence the drugs have been sold in schools or on the grounds of at least six area high schools -- Frontier, Hamburg, Lake Shore, Silver Creek, St. Francis and Fredonia.
Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and several other agencies began picking up suspects at about 6:30 a.m. Agent Nancy M. Cote said many of the defendants are believed to have sold dangerous prescription drugs in and around high schools in the Southtowns.
Most of the defendants are young people in their late teens and early 20s. They are accused of selling controlled substances, including OxyContin, fentanyl painkiller patches, hydrocodone tablets, cocaine and heroin.
"A lot of this activity was associated with students and former students from Frontier Central High School [in Hamburg]," said Cote, who heads the Buffalo DEA office. "But to say this was only a problem at Frontier would be absolutely wrong. It's a big problem at other schools throughout this area, and all over the country."
Some of the prescription drugs that were sold to teens were highly addictive substances, 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Two of the defendants in the case are South Buffalo adults who are alleged to have used drugs and dealt drugs with their teenage daughter.
The adults were identified by police as Brian Mann, 41, and his wife, Tammie, 39, of Geary Street. Their daughter, Jessica Mann, then 19, was arrested in January 2005 on felony charges that she supplied fentanyl to other young people.
The DEA has been investigating the activities for more than two years with Hamburg police, Evans police, the state Health Department Narcotic Enforcement Bureau, the U.S. Veterans Affairs inspector general's office and other agencies.
Authorities said most of the prescription drugs that are illegally sold to young people have legitimate uses as painkillers. Criminals obtain the drugs by stealing from pharmacies, buying from Web sites operated by drug traffickers and using fraudulent prescriptions and other methods.
"When they're abused, these prescription drugs are very dangerous and very addictive," said Dale H. Schick, a DEA supervisor who is an expert on pharmaceuticals. "Kids make the mistake of thinking they're safe, because they know doctors prescribe them. They see these drugs in the medicine cabinets of their parents and grandparents."
But the drugs are only safe when used for legitimate medical reasons, in doses prescribed by doctors, Schick said.
"Another problem we're seeing is that when the prescription drugs are not available, some of these kids move on to heroin," the drug investigator said.
The suspects arrested in the morning roundup were to appear later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott at federal court. The U.S. attorney's office is prosecuting.
In addition to the Manns, eight Hamburg residents, three Blasdell residents and one person each from Concord, Lake View and Lackawanna were charged with felony counts of conspiracy and distribution of controlled substances.