Mexican drug cartels are pumping a potent form of methamphetamine, also known as crystal or ice, into Northwest Arkansas.
According to law enforcement, 99-percent of meth in our state is imported by drug runners from the southern border using Arkansas’ extensive interstate system in exchange for large sums of money. Local and state police along with federal agencies collaborate to dismantle the large drug operations in the region.
“We recently had a bust of over 100 pounds and that’s just crazy,” said Sergeant Tony Murphy with the Fayetteville Police Department
The 4th Judicial Drug Task Force which is made up of several Washington County agencies functions as a strong line of defense against the distribution of the powerful stimulant. From January to March of 2019, officers seized 15 pounds of meth.
“We would see a lot of mom and pop meth labs, where they’re using the one-pot method and now it seems to be coming in from super labs down south,” said Sgt. Murphy.
Since roughly a decade ago when the state began closely monitoring the sell of Pseudoephedrine drugs, the number of clandestine meth labs plummeted. According to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, meth labs decreased from 416 in 2010 to 11 in 2017. This trend created a profitable business for Mexican drug cartels.
“What we’re seeing coming from Mexico is a better, quality product. It’s almost 99-percent pure. It’s better quality, there’s more of it, it’s cheaper,” said Dak Kees, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.
Kees says cars with homemade compartments carry pounds of meth at a time from the southern border across state lines. The 2019 Arkansas Drug Threat Assessment (ADTA) reports police in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Little Rock which are part of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) intercepted shipments totaling 104 pounds in 2017, the most recent year of data in the report. It’s a significant drop from the 340 pounds seized in 2015 by HITDA agencies.
“We’ve seen people that can make, easily, $100,000 a shipment. And, you think about that. If you can make one shipment a month, in 12 months you’ve made $1.2 million,” said Kees.
Via Interstate 40 and Interstate 49, drug runners drop off shipments in Northwest Arkansas for distribution. Kees describes our region as the perfect spot for drug dealers to set up shop. What attracts people to live here, rural areas and a booming economy, also attracts these criminals.
“You have the privacy, but you have the population with Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale, Fayetteville. And you have the money,” said Kees.
The DEA along with the Fayetteville and Springdale police departments recently took down a large-scale drug trafficking ring dubbed “Operation Ozark Express” based in those two towns. Kees prosecuted the 15 people involved and sentenced them to a combined one-thousand months in prison.
“The people that are dealing this drug are killers,” said Kees.
The latest statistic from the Arkansas Department of health show 67 Arkansans died from meth overdoses in 2016.
“It’s affected the state of Arkansas in ways that we’re not going to fully understand in years to come,” said Kees.
Karen Slater of Rogers knows the damage meth causes all too well. She was addicted to the drug for 15 years after a traumatic experience led her to try the stimulant.
“It becomes a solution to change the way you feel and you get in this cycle where it no longer works anymore but you still use it because it’s the only thing you know that’s given you relief,” said Slater.
She eventually lost her job as an insurance agent and custody of her children.
“In 2011 I was arrested for felony trafficking and possession of methamphetamine and found myself in the Benton County Jail. And that was a life changing event,” said Slater.
Now eight years clean, she helps others overcome their addictions through a program she founded called Arkansas P.E.A.R.L..– Positive Energy Affecting Recovering Lives.
“Their desperation to want to get better and to know that you can help them. There’s almost a magic that happens in recovery that’s really unique,” said Slater.
As Slater works to rebuild lives destroyed by meth, drug runners continue to pump the drug into our communities making it an uphill battle for the recovered addict. Police and the feds remain committed to catch more drug runners going up and down Arkansas interstates and highways.
“They’re out there on the streets, and you might not see them, you might not know who they are but they’re out there combating the drug problem,” said Sgt. Murphy.
The sole duty of detectives in the 4th judicial Drug Task Force is narcotics investigation to eradicate the manufacturing, distribution and use of controlled substances.