Where did that come from?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Mexican drug cartels: They’re already here

When most people hear about the operations commonly referred to as the “Mexican drug cartels,” they firmly believe the problems remain contained south of the border. However, according to Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe, that is not the reality local law enforcement officials are experiencing.

“The cartels are already here,” Lowe said. “People just think they are still in Mexico, but they aren’t. We don’t want that kind of violence in our communities.”

But there is also danger in profiling anyone of Latino descent as being a cartel member.

“Not all immigrants are members of a drug cartel,” Lowe said. “Most are here to work because their economy is so bad. But the [criminal elements] blend in, which makes it very dangerous.”

Lowe said officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol are trained and have a wealth of experience in drug interdiction efforts along the state’s highways and byways, but rural officers, not so much.

“The cartels have people trucking it in, flying it in or carrying it over the border in backpacks,” he said. “Most is trafficked by the Mexican Mafia through California and then to other parts of the country. The drug problem in this area is at epidemic proportions. When rural officers make a traffic stop, we never know what, or who, we are going to run into.”

Most ironically, while southwest Missouri was once known to lead the nation in the manufacture of methamphetamine, that seems to no longer be the case.

“Most meth users are no longer making their own,” Lowe said. “It’s cheaper to buy the stuff imported from Mexico, and the market is oversaturated. It’s not only more expensive to make their own, the risk is higher because they have to purchase the ingredients to manufacture the drug.”

Not only are drug mules packing in low-cost methamphetamine, they are running thousands of packages of ephedrine pills, cocaine and marijuana through various channels and routes.

Opioids are much harder to obtain due to the recent crackdown on physicians who prescribe or over-prescribe medications like hydrocodone, fentanyl and Oxycontin.

Those who seek opioids to feed their addictions are turning to heroin.

“Drug dealers can’t make money on meth anymore,” Lowe said. “So they are shifting their focus to another market — heroin. It’s making a comeback in this area. It’s kind of under the radar right now, but because people can’t get opioids anymore, they’re going to start looking for something else to keep feeding that addiction.”

Lowe said cocaine is also making a resurgence in the area, primarily in Springfield.

“We really haven’t seen much of it in this area, yet,” he said.

Whether the drug of choice for users is opioids, for the downer effect, or methamphetamine, which will keep an individual running for days on end, the most common denominator among them is marijuana use.

“Nearly everyone we deal with in the drug trade also smokes weed,” he said. “But this is much higher potency stuff than they used back in the Cheech and Chong days, in the 70s. They all smoke it, because it’s relatively easy to get.

“With the medical marijuana trade coming into Missouri, we have other concerns. Marijuana does have medical benefits, but our main concern is that a child might get ahold of the edibles. They make edible candy, gummy chews and crackers that look like goldfish. We know that kids getting ahold of these products could result in serious consequences.”

Area residents who try to report illicit drug activity often find themselves frustrated with the restrictions under which law enforcement is allowed to act, and concerned about becoming a target of retaliation for informing on the perpetrators.

“We can’t just go kick in someone’s door and toss the house,” Lowe said. “We have to have corroborating evidence that will allow us to get a search warrant. Real life is not like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, or Chicago P.D. It doesn’t work that way.

“That is frustrating to citizens who try to report, and to the law enforcement community trying to stop it,” he said. “People who inform on illicit drug activity often end up with slashed tires, paint scratches on their vehicles or busted windows in retaliation. Dealers are not above intimidating witnesses, even to the point of threatening their children or terrorizing them into keeping quiet.”

Trying to change another person’s behaviors often proves futile, even when continuing in those habits might prove deadly.

“I arrested one individual who was on meth and told her she was going to die if she didn’t get off of it,” Lowe said. “She denied being on anything. People have to want to get off of it. They have to want to go to rehab and change their lives. And most don’t want to do that. That’s why we will always have a problem trying to eradicate illegal drugs.”

As addicts become more desperate for their drugs, crime rates rise in response.

“People can no longer leave their front doors open like they did when I was a kid,” Lowe said. “Residents have to make an effort, take precautions, lock their doors and not leave valuables or keys in an unlocked vehicle.

“What’s frustrating is law enforcement works so hard to get these people off the streets and then they’re released on probation and go right back to what they were doing,” he said. “While programs like Drug Court are good in principle, they aren’t working. The idea is to get people off drugs, get them jobs and having them become contributing members of the community. If [Drug Court] graduates three people a year, there are 303 more walking the street.”

Lowe acknowledges the struggle addicts have in kicking their habits.

“Some people really want to get off that merry-go-round, but some just don’t care,” he said. “They enjoy the feeling they get from whatever they are using.”

Some of the illegal substances making their way into society these days can be extremely deadly, even to those officers trying to help eradicate the problem.

“We now have to carry Narcan to administer to people experiencing an overdose,” Lowe said. “Officers are being told they should no longer field test powdery substances because of the dangers of contact with fentanyl. It can kill you, just by contact with your skin or by inhaling it. And dealers are now using fentanyl to cut into heroin and cocaine to make a better product and make their customer come back. It also gets their customers addicted to opioids.”

In the ongoing war on drugs, law enforcement officials are having to bounce through hoops to get a conviction while the perpetrators continue to break laws at will, often risking the lives of their customers and others in the quest to make another dollar.

“We are between a rock and a hard place when we’re dealing with the area’s drug epidemic, and it’s not getting any better,” Lowe said. “We try to address the problem as best we can.”

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