Drug trafficking in southeast Arizona declining but still national crisis

Drugs Trafficked in tires across the U.S.-Mexico Border. Photo provided by U.S. Border Patrol Twitter Account

Drug trafficking across the U.S. and Mexico border continues to be an epidemic, not just for Southeast Arizona, but the nation as a whole.

Cochise County is one of the primary points of entry.

Since 2013, six different drugs have been commonly smuggled into the U.S.: methamphetamine, powdered cocaine, marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin and oxycodone.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector, agents seized 727,367 pounds of marijuana last year; nearly 22 times the 32,608 pounds confiscated by Yuma’s sector. The Tucson sector haul accounts for more than half of the total amount of marijuana seized in the southern sector of the U.S.

Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, who has been with the county attorney’s office for 12 years and served as a drug and violence prosecutor for five years, said heroin and cocaine use is on the rise.

McIntyre said that cost and accessibility are what makes heroin the most common drug in Southeast Arizona.

“Cocaine is a problematic drug. It does terrible things to people. However, the cost associated with purchasing cocaine means it’s being used by a different economic demographic,” McIntyre said.  “Then heroin comes which is so much cheaper than almost anything else now.”

Although drug trafficking continues to be large problem in the U.S., it has started to decline over the past few years.  The U.S. Border Patrol Tucson sector seized about 1 million pounds of marijuana in 2011, which is about 300,000 pounds more than in 2016.

Drug overdoses have grown significantly in Arizona, with methamphetamine causing the highest number of overdoses, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner report.  The report listed 111 overdoses from methamphetamine in 2016, which has nearly doubled since 2014.  Cocaine overdoses decreased slightly over the past six years from 33 in 2010 to 28 in 2016.

U.S. Border Patrol Marijuana Seizures 2011-2016. Infographic  by Garrett Green

Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess said that although heroin and methamphetamine are still the most common drugs found in Southeast Arizona, he has started to see a slow rise of overdoses from fentanyl.  Fentanyl is an opiate pain medication that many cancer patients use and has been claimed to be deadlier than heroin. Cochise County uses Pima County’s medical examiner under a joint contract.

“Opiate medications like fentanyl analogs are much more prevalent in the Midwest and East Coast for whatever reason,” Hess said.  “We haven’t seen that in Southern Arizona. We do have a slow gradual increase in deaths in which fentanyl is involved, but we haven’t seen it nearly to the extent they have in other parts of the country.

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s tallied 23 overdose deaths from fentanyl last year, which is double the amount of deaths from 2010 to 2014.  That is still many fewer overdoses compared to more than 100 methamphetamine overdoses and 85 heroin overdoses in the county in 2016.

For more information on drug addiction, its effects and where to find help, visit substanceabuse.az.gov 


Garrett Green is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona.  Contact him at garrettgreen@email.arizona.edu









2 comments Add yours
  1. Is the smuggling declining, or is more getting through undetected? If heroin use is on the rise, it seems to me the supply line is still humming along. You really can’t use statistics of what is caught to measure incline or decline.

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