If drugs aren’t stopped along the U.S.–Mexico border in Arizona’s remote desert, chances are, a large proportion will end up traveling through Pinal County on its way to Phoenix, AZ a major trafficking hub.
Around 40 percent of illicit drugs enter the United States through Arizona, says Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.
Hard narcotics—such as heroin, methamphetamines, and fentanyl—are usually hidden in vehicles and driven through one of Arizona’s seven ports of entry along its border, while marijuana has traditionally been backpacked through the desert between border crossings.
In the past few years, Mexican drug cartels have been flooding the United States with methamphetamines and fentanyl, driving the supply so hard and dropping the price so low that it pushes up addiction rates and the market then demands more drugs.
“Our demand is based on what the cartel’s pushing. The demand is what the cartels create in our society,” Lamb said.
“So they go out into areas and they will give out meth at a reduced price, or free, to certain places. They love rural areas—hard-working, blue-collar people that are, life has got its boot on their throats. They get into those communities, and then it trickles into the cities. And once they’re into the cities, it’s a lot easier.”
The increase is reflected in meth seizures at the border, especially at ports of entry. Border agents seized more than 82,000 pounds of meth along the whole southern border in fiscal year 2019, compared to less than 24,000 pounds in fiscal 2014.
“I would venture to say we’re not catching 20 percent,” Lamb said of the border seizures, based on his conversations with the Border Patrol drug unit. “It’s probably more around 10 percent.”
Inside the United States, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seizures of meth more than doubled from about 50,000 pounds in fiscal 2017 to 112,000 pounds in fiscal 2019.
Lamb’s office in Pinal County seized 3,000 percent more meth in 2019 (153 pounds) than it did in 2018 (4.4 pounds).
It’s a billion-dollar business that will only change if the cartels’ bottom line takes a significant hit, Lamb said.
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