A five-month drug investigation targeting neighborhood dealers ended Tuesday with the arrests of 22 people suspected of selling methamphetamine and a handful of prescription drugs.

A five-month drug investigation targeting neighborhood dealers ended Tuesday with the arrests of 22 people suspected of selling methamphetamine and a handful of prescription drugs.

The methamphetamine-enforcement program, dubbed "Operation Ice Meltdown," involved informants buying small amounts of meth in an effort to find the low-level sources that supply regular users and generate noise, traffic and criminal complaints in neighborhoods, authorities said.

"These are the folks dealing to the daily user," Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said. "The users are the ones that steal to support their habit.

"This is where we think we can have the biggest impact."

He noted that the suspects range in age from their teens to their 50s and include men and women, as well as people who are white, black and Hispanic.

"This crosses all demographic lines," Schoen said.

"Meth is a poison to the health and safety of the community," he added.

The department's gang and street drug unit started the meth-buying program in August. It oversaw informants who bought 1/2; gram or less of the drugs, typically for $50 or less, Schoen said.

Most of the purchases happened in Medford's central core and west side, but some were made in White City, Eagle Point and Phoenix. They happened at suspects' homes and in other gathering places, police said.

During the buying program, police identified 25 suspected dealers. A Jackson County grand jury indicted 21 of the suspects on charges of possession and delivery of methamphetamine on Dec. 12. Police said they had evidence giving them cause to arrest four additional suspects on meth charges.

Arrest teams including 28 police officers and narcotics detectives started targeting the suspected dealers at 6 a.m. Tuesday. The department's drug-detection dogs, Oregon State Police crime lab, Jackson County District Attorney's Office and state Department of Human Services child welfare workers also assisted.

By the end of the day, police had caught up with 21 of the suspected dealers. Officers were still looking for four suspects: Kenneth Calvin, 50; Lon Hunsinger, 35; Sharla Maher, 37, and a 16-year-old girl whose name wasn't released.

While seeking the suspects, police also found four people with probation violations and took them into custody.

Three children were living with the suspected dealers. Two were taken into protective custody and one was placed with relatives, Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.

"We believe this will be significant on the street level," Schoen said of Tuesday's arrests.

The arrests will remove some small-time dealers and make other drug sellers and users more wary in their dealings and aware of the consequences, he said.

"We have to hold people who commit crimes in our community accountable," Deputy Chief Tim George said.

Investigators will share information gathered during this sweep with the Drug Enforcement Administration for longer-term operations homing in on suppliers of larger amounts of meth to dealers, Schoen said.

The department got a $32,278 meth-enforcement grant from the state to help pay for the operation. Grant money helped pay for overtime for officers and provided cash for the informants' purchases.

In all, the state Legislative Emergency Board meth-enforcement grant program handed out $400,000.

The Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team got $36,472 through the program. Sheriff Mike Winters said the team plans to target street-level dealers with a similar buying program.

Medford plans additional meth-enforcement projects in the coming year. The city also will work to clean up around the drug houses targeted Tuesday with a blight abatement project, Schoen said.

"This will affect the livability of neighborhoods. Kids can play outside again," Doney said, noting that police expect to see a drop in domestic violence, thefts from cars and yards and other crimes across the targeted areas.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or aburke@mailtribune.com