PHOENIX - The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched a new program in February to crack down on meth trafficking in key U.S. cities, and Phoenix was one of eight cities chosen for "Operation Crystal Shield."
The program focuses on meth hubs in the United States. Besides Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, St. Louis were also chosen for the operation. Together, these DEA Field Divisions account for over 75% of meth seized in the U.S. in 2019.
DEA officials say virtually all meth comes through major ports of entry along the Southwest border, and this is part of the reason Phoenix has been labeled a transportation hub, meaning it is where meth is trafficked, in bulk, and distributed across the country.
Updates on the operation
U.S. Attorney General William Barr provided an update on the initiative in September.
"We have all heard about the opioid crisis, and it certainly has been and remains a crisis in our country," said Barr.
Barr said that the program was adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he expects the DEA's work in cracking down on meth trafficking to "accelerate" once the severity of the virus decreases in North America.
Since the program launched, 1,800 arrests have been made and 28,500 pounds of meth, or 65 million doses, have been seized nationwide, according to Barr during a news conference on Sept. 10.
"It is designed to seize it and dismantle the organization that are involved before it gets to packages and distributed," said Barr.
In Arizona, Barr said the DEA has seized an estimated 3,900 pounds of meth, or 8.8 million doses. Nearly 750 investigations have been launched since the program began.
Barr says the meth is coming from two main cartels in Mexico, and then delivered to the United States, where it is distributed to nine cities as the main trafficking hubs, with Phoenix amongst the cities.
"Being a trans hub shipment point means that the drugs are coming in, and we are the first stop before they are prepackaged and redistributed for transportation throughout the U.S.," said Erica Curry with the DEA in Arizona.
DEA officials say they will be cracking down by beefing up cases, like paying informants for information and adding on additional technology resources.
Officials say while there are four times more opioid overdoses in the U.S. than from meth, meth seizures are up 147% in the past year. In Arizona, meth seizures are up 78% in the last year.
"It has been overshadowed by the opioid crisis, but the reality is pound for pound, we receive far more meth than we do heroin or fentanyl. About 10 times as much, actually," said Curry.
DEA officials say meth is an enticing drug because it is cheap and highly addictive. Meanwhile, overdose rates have been increasing, and there are now an estimated 1 million meth addicts in the United States.