Capt. Eben Bratcher of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t mince words when it comes to methamphetamine, saying whether they know it or not, most of the people who are addicted to the drug here in Yuma County buy it from dealers who almost always carry it across the border themselves concealed in a body cavity.
“I would think that if more people realized this, there would fewer people addicted to meth,” Bratcher said.
Almost like a daily fix, Bratcher said deputies are routinely arresting meth users and seizing their drugs. Since the drug is so easy to buy, he added that he can only assume there is a lot out on the streets. One thing is for certain though – deputies are taking more drugs off Yuma County’s streets than ever before.
Two men were arrested and more than $40,000 worth of methamphetamine seized (seized) Aug. 19 during two separate incidents at the Port of San Luis. Smuggling meth in from Mexico is very common, and much more popular than cooking the drug at labs in the U.S.
So far this year, the sheriff’s office has seized 12.29 kilograms of methamphetamine, or about 27.9 pounds. The approximate street value of those drugs is estimated around $270,380.
Bratcher said drug sales here in Yuma County are conducted much the same way they are in other places. He explained that the local dealers, for example, will buy a pound of methamphetamine in Mexico and smuggle it back into the country. They then cut the meth into smaller portions and sell it to the smaller street-level dealers.
These smaller dealers, who often have their own crews or are associated with street gangs, will then cut the meth into the ¼ gram, ½ gram, 1 gram and 3.5 gram increments it is commonly sold in and sell it to the addicts looking to buy drugs.
“It is that easy to get it here. It is produced and sold with impunity in Mexico,” Bratcher said. “And it is going to stay that way until (the Mexican and U.S. governments) can figure out a way to keep it from coming across the border. So far, they haven’t been very successful.”
Bratcher explained that a majority of the methamphetamine his agency is seeing is being produced in labs in Mexico, which can make hundreds of pounds of the drug each month.
As for the City of Yuma, Sgt. Leanne Worthen, of the Yuma Police Department, says their officers seize on average about 40 to 50 pounds of methamphetamine annually. The value of those seizures, she estimates, ranges from between $360,000 to $450,000.
Because the drug has become so proliferous, Worthen said keeping it off the streets has become a never-ending battle for officers.
“We get some of it off the streets, but drug users are consuming more than we can get,” Worthen said. “We aren’t going to stop, though. We are going to keep going after whatever we can get.”
Supervisory officer Teresa Small, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection, reports there has been an increase this year in the number of methamphetamine seizures and arrests, compared to some of the other hard narcotics, such as heroin and cocaine.
“We are seeing hard narcotics being smuggled more frequently than marijuana, which is what we would see in the past,” Small said. “In years past, it would be rare that we would see hard narcotics. It’s actually now flipped.”
Small said most of the methamphetamine smuggling in Yuma County is being attempted through the San Luis Port of Entry, through two types of methods known as “deep concealment” and “body carriers.”
The deep concealment method is most often used in vehicles, she explained, where the methamphetamine is hidden in specially built compartments in common places such as the gas tank, drive shaft, seats, tires, dashboard, engine and roofs.
The other method, she continued, is what is known as the body carry method, where the methamphetamine is packaged tightly and either strapped to a person’s body or hidden in something they are trying to carry across.
“Our officers do a superb job of catching smuggling attempts. We are, however, human and not going to be able to capture 100 percent of the drugs coming through,” Small said. “Our officers use all their skills and experience to prevent drugs from entering our country.”
She explained that methamphetamine and other hard narcotics such as cocaine and heroin are easier to conceal than marijuana because they can be hidden in smaller areas. These narcotics also have a higher profit margin for drug smugglers.
While both methods are regularly used by drug smugglers, Small said officers are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of body carry attempts being made.
According to CBP statistics, officers seized 1,979 pounds of methamphetamine this fiscal year at the state’s ports of entry. The figure represents a 54 percent increase over the 1,283 pounds seized in fiscal year 2012.
There has also been a slight increase in marijuana seizures this fiscal year, Small said. In fiscal year 2012, CBP seized 75,165 pounds of marijuana, compared to the 79,366 pounds so far in 2013, roughly a six-percent increase.
On a positive note, there has been a been a 51 percent decrease in the amount of cocaine seizures during the past fiscal year as well, with 2,432 pounds seized in 2012 and 1,192 in 2013. Heroin seizures have also declined with 523 pounds seized in fiscal year 2012, compared to 349 in 2013, a 33 percent reduction.
Figures were not available for individual ports.
Agent Kyle Estes of the Yuma Sector Communications Division said the Yuma area is more of a “transit point” for the methamphetamine being produced in Mexico, rather than a “destination point.”
He explained that Yuma is a known corridor drug that smuggling organizations attempt to use. Most of the drugs that successfully make it through are destined for other major cities across the country such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Estes also said the majority of the methamphetamine being seized by Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents is being carried across the border and through the desert like marijuana is. It actually occurs at the checkpoints on Interstate 8 and Highway 95.
According to statistics from the Yuma Sector, agents seized 342 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $6,940 so far this calendar year, compared to 276 pounds last year.
Agents have also seized 84 pounds of cocaine so far this year, valued at $2,824, compared to 548 pounds last year. Additionally, 27 pounds of heroin, valued at $535, has also been seized by through the month of July, compared to 121 pounds last year.
As for marijuana, agents have confiscated 38,493 pounds, that had an estimated street value of $29,333, compared to last year when agents seized 36,262 pounds.
Small said ultimately, there is no verifiable way to quantify how much drugs make it through, or how much is out on the streets.
“The only way would be to gather all the drug trafficking organizations at a table and have each one of them gives us a summary of how much they were able to get past us,” Small said. “I don’t ever see that happening.”