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DEA: heroin, meth busts up 100 percent in 5 years in the Northwest

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File picture of meth seized in a drug bust. File picture of meth seized in a drug bust.
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Seizures of heroin and meth are up 100 percent in the last five years in the Pacific Northwest, according to a spokesperson for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, but federal and local narcotics officers are not giving up the fight.

Jodie Underwood, the public information officer for the Seattle Division of the DEA which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, said the increase is “alarming,” and fighting heroin and meth is the agency’s primary focus in the Northwest.

By and large, she said, the two drugs are trafficked in from Mexico and concealed in every way you can imagine: in gas tanks, luggage, backpacks, and by people carrying drugs and or cash inside their own bodies.

It’s a battle Salem Police Lieutenant Steve Birr is all too familiar with. He is the commander of the Special Operations Section, which encompasses a full-time narcotics team of 14 people.

Just Friday, they arrested 10 people at a meth house on NE Fisher Road, right next door to a drug treatment center.

He said he and his team get information every single day about drug houses or trafficking activities, and the biggest problem they see on the streets is meth, though heroin and cocaine are also up.

“It seems to me like the seizures are getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “Maybe we’re getting better, I don’t know. But at the same time, I question how much we’re actually missing.”

It was just a few months ago the team found 55 pounds of cocaine concealed in a semi truck, and investigators linked the find to other investigations involving the Mexican cartel.

“You look at the number of semi trucks that drive right through here every day, and you can’t help but wonder, 'Was this simply the tip of the iceberg?'” he added.

He said the Oregon ban on over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine has dramatically reduced the production of meth in our state, but it hasn’t changed the impact of the drug.

It’s now being brought up from Mexico in what are called conversion labs, where the drug is transported in liquid form. When it evaporates, the crystals are left behind.

“The [cartel] is here,” Birr said, adding that the re-arrest of drug lord El Chapo won’t affect supply and demand. “If we take somebody off [the street], someone else will step up and replace them.The mere fact that we make a high-level cartel-type arrest doesn’t mean they aren’t going to send someone up to take care of business for them.”

Birr said the addiction to pain-killers is fueling a renewed demand for heroin as a cheaper alternative. But users don’t know the concentration of the drug they’re getting, and often take too much.

“I think the thing that’s really tragic is the overdoses,” he said. “We’re seeing at least one a month, I mean fatal overdoses.”

It’s become such a problem an anti-opioid nasal medication that can bring people out of an overdose and potentially save their lives has been issued, and all of Salem’s sworn police officers now carry it.

It’s a dark world that affects everyone in the Northwest; as street drug users often turn to crime to finance their addictions, and innocent people become the victims.

“Check fraud, credit card fraud, stolen property, prostitution, whatever,” Birr said. “It affects society as a whole in a lot of other ways other than just the drug abuse.”

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