By LOUISE ANN NOETH
Drug abuse is an enormous, complicated issue that touches all of us – some with catastrophic wallops. It is a topic that is impossible to cover properly in a single issue, so we’ll deep dive into a couple points at a time over several issues.
An unexpected truth
Law enforcement would prefer addicts get help, not jail time. This starts with federal agents and continues down through state, county and local agencies. They are worried about the corrosive societal train wreck expanding at all levels with all Americans.
Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] Special Agent In Charge Bill Callahan believes the most effective, safe ways for the public to disrupt the drug business is to recognize the signs of the addiction, find out where to get help for those addicted and those affected and put an end to the stigma of drug addiction.
That may not be the advice you expect from the leader of 220 federal agents tasked with crushing drug cartel operations and seizing drug stashes. He firmly believes that many addicts are good people who were driven to do bad things.
“If someone broke his or her leg no one would hesitate to call an ambulance,” he said as we talked in his St. Louis Division office. “Opioid abuse is not a character flaw, if we can get past that, we can assist people get the help they need.”
Criminal behavior of drug addicts almost always can be traced back to brain dysfunction.
“Something breaks down in the brain and they tend not to call for help. They may not realize special help is needed to rid themselves of an insatiable need to get more drugs,” Callahan said. “We prefer they get help so [we] will not need to arrest them.”
Taking action against terrorists
Be aware of any vacant homes or closed businesses getting packages. Mail order drug delivery is a common distribution method nowadays, so if delivery trucks are showing up to vacant locations, call the police department and report it.
Keep an eye out for odd or suspicious situations. If the lights are not working at a corner, vacant lot or some place where lights are installed, call your local city officials and get it fixed.
“Don’t take ownership of the incident or situation,” Callahan advised. “Call the responsible law enforcement.”
Callahan is the local lead for the federal agency. The DEA, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, has 23 domestic field divisions that operate in 90 countries across the globe.
The St. Louis division covers Kansas, Missouri and Southern Illinois and is staffed by 110 special agents and 110 task force officers that work together with support staffs. The task force officers rotate in and out from local police departments and are federally deputized so they have full authority and backing to go where the cases take them.
They target drug trafficking organizations. This includes the makers, distributors, money launderers, stash locations – anyone who touches the drug on the way to the user.
Callahan explained that anytime communities shrink illicit drug sales, violence is likewise reduced.
“Money is power,” he said pointedly. “These narcotics peddlers are terrorist groups that use their drug money to not just buy weapons, but also political influence, influence that is used for evil.”
In other words illegal drug money siphoned from St. Louis and St. Charles counties drains into foreign pockets to do evil. Lots of it.
Dirty money into clean
Callahan is smart about trade-based money laundering. He explained that drug dealers don’t take checks or credit cards, it’s a cash-only operation.
“Semi-tractor trailer loads of currency is much harder to transport back into Mexico and South America than it is to smuggle dope into the [United States],” Callahan revealed.
“The cartels use the dirty cash to buy significant amounts of legitimate goods – TVs, phones, designer clothes, etc. – then, ship the goods home to sell.”
Got that? Drug money is converted to clean cash profit by murderous bad guys and gals who become legitimate business people in the process. Try to tell the difference on your own.
The top killer drugs in the St. Louis region are opioids, heroin, Fentanyl and synthetic Fentanyl. Mexican and South American drug cartels are smuggling millions of pills and pounds of powders to feed the emerging and very profitable counterfeit pill production – a diabolical emerging threat that’s sweeping the nation, including the Midwest.
Drug busts now routinely confiscate pill presses that can perfectly visually duplicate anything you bring home from Walgreens, CVS or even hospital pharmacies. Pharmacists have said even they can’t tell the difference visually, so what chance do average citizens have? It is what’s in them that has and continues to kill in violently painful ways.
Understand this: Abusers seek out the best product, especially if they know the drug has already killed others, because it signals to the abuser that it is powerful. Forget rational, they entreat the “high” above all else and dealers lurk at the ready to trade their stash for cash.
“Wanting the bigger high, [addicts] buy a lethal street drug thinking they can take it without problems,” Callahan said. “[They] end up dying as well. If your doctor didn’t script it, and the pharmacist didn’t fill it, don’t put it your mouth.”
Callahan is painfully aware that far too many people began opioid use on a prescription basis, then slowly moved to abuse by using more than what the doctor-approved.
“They start casually, asking around trying to find out if a friend has pills leftover from another medical issue,” he noted. “The problem is that the pill was prescribed for another person, for another reason, at a different dose and body weight. This process evolves to ‘I know someone who knows someone’ until it hits the street dealer where you really have no idea what your getting.”
Pathway to addiction
Curtailing the criminal drug business is one area of law enforcement where the feds and local cops are in lockstep agreement. They are crystal clear that illicit drug trade is Big Business and that the end user is as protected as spit on the street.
Take away one revenue stream and the cartels finagle another way to generate cash. They don’t care how many times victims go to the hospital or their loved ones pray or sob in a hospital room or cemetery. Cartels want the money.
At the local level, the efforts of local task force officers result in commendable outcomes.
“We are appreciative of the collaborative efforts and partnership between the DEA and its state and local law enforcement officers,” said St. Peters Police Department Chief Rick Struttmann, who has two officers detached to the St. Charles County Drug Task Force. “The partnership ensures the federal agencies are kept up-to-date on the problems effecting the St. Peters community which then allows federal, state and local task forces to work together when it comes to identifying and arresting criminals who are willing to participate in the distribution of controlled substances in our communities. These investigative efforts have a great impact on making our communities safer.”
That effect is mirrored in communities across St. Charles County and in St. Louis County.
O’Fallon Police Department Chief Tim Clothier knows first hand that drug dealers – big or small – don’t have jurisdictional boundaries, they sell wherever, whenever and to whomever.
“Sending our staff to work with the DEA is win-win for O’Fallon,” he observed. “We get back highly trained officers who have operational experience and improved situational awareness. They know exactly what is necessary in order to prosecute illicit drug cases.
“I have encountered, good people, professional people, who because of an injury that requires painkillers, also [found a] pathway to an addiction. I have seen it way too many times.”
It’s happening here
Local police departments simply can’t offer the types and levels of training provided by the DEA that empowers them to track the illicit drug sources to supply regions anywhere in the world.
“Our job is to arrest and track the street level dealer, find stash houses and identify distribution methods in, and through, the community. But to stop or stem the flow, you have to get to [the] source and dismantle it at that level. Every supplier we get off the street helps, but it doesn’t fix the problem.”
Every involved source consulted for this article hammered home the same message: Addiction does not discriminate. It infuses every community, every age and demographic group, rich and poor, educated and illiterate. It is coming after all of us.
Clothier not only recognizes Fentanyl as a daily local law enforcement issue, but agrees it is an alarming, growing problem nationally.
“More and more narcotics are being cut with Fentanyl that contributes to more overdoses and deaths. Darn near every other crime we have can be linked to narcotics and addiction,” confessed Clothier. “Shoplifting, homicides, sexual assaults, prostitution, car thefts, thefts from cars and home, it all has a nexus, a connection to narcotics and abuse.”
What that means for society at large is that things cost more – both to pay for losses and to put protections in place.
“Goods and services get more expensive. Insurance premiums will be more. This affects us all of us,” Clothier said with somber perspective.
Staunchly backing Clothier’s comments are Department of Justice Bureau of Justice statistics that state:
• Evidence indicates that drug users are more likely than nonusers to commit crimes.
• Arrestees and inmates were often under the influence of a drug at the time they committed their offense.
• Drug trafficking generates violence.
The percentages are staggering, upwards of 90% of those arrested, convicted and paroled have some connection to drugs. There is also a steady rise in the number of young people who commit violent crimes.
“Incarceration is not always the answer,” Clothier said. “The best way, and right way, to do it, is to get the abuser help, to get treatment.”
Remember what Callahan said up front? Less drugs equals less crime.
On a local level, a 12 unit detective staff forms the St. Charles County Drug Task Force. This is a multi-jurisdictional group comprised of officers from police departments throughout the county. Clothier has added another officer to the Task Force that specifically investigates local dealers and their distribution methods. In 2019, these women and men conducted a total of 444 investigations and 80 arrests.
The drug seizures included: 6,062 grams of cocaine; 5,152 grams of heroin; 7,767 grams of Fentanyl; 6,215 grams of wax made with THC [the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis]; 513,251 grams of marijuana; 1,196 grams of marijuana edibles; 4,121 grams of marijuana [indoor plants seized]; 54 grams of psilocybin mushrooms; 10,900 grams of methamphetamine; 3.9 grams of MDMA; 19.2 grams of LSD; 7.1 grams of oxycodone; 8.7 grams of hydrocodone; 1.4 grams of Xanax and 100.5 grams of other prescription drugs.
According to the DEA’s 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment [NDTA], which outlines a strategic review of threats posed by domestic and international drug trafficking and the abuse of illicit drugs, a change is underway. While there was a decline in drug overdose deaths of more than 4% in 2018, flanked by a 13% decline in overdoses from controlled prescription opioids, the spread of fentanyl and methamphetamine across the country remains, endangering all Americans.
The NDTA strongly warns that the opioid threat continues at epidemic levels, affecting large portions of the United States. Meanwhile, the stimulant threat, including meth and cocaine, is worsening and becoming more widespread as traffickers continue to sell increasing amounts outside of each drugs’ traditional markets. And therein lies the challenge and the threat.
To view the full National Drug Threat Assessment, visit go.usa.gov/xdjnt.