The amount of methamphetamine coming into Southern Illinois has slowly been increasing for the past five or 10 years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says.
But gone are the days when people made meth in a hotel room or trailer, “Breaking Bad” style. Now, Mexican drug cartels are increasingly bringing cheaper and higher-quality crystal methamphetamine to the United States, according to Doug Dorley, an agent with the DEA’s St. Louis division.
As heroin and opioid use increased in the region, Dorley said, so did meth — just much more quietly.
“The product comes finished, bagged and ready for distribution,” he said. “Now there’s larger amounts of drugs sitting in areas where they weren’t before. It’s easier to conceal, so there’s more people doing it.”
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Most of the meth available in the U.S. is now produced in Mexico and smuggled across the southwest border, according to the DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. Because of this, and restrictions on buying meth precursors such as cold medicines that pseudoephedrine, the number of domestic meth laboratories has declined.
After all, Dorley said, when people can buy cheap, good-quality meth, why would they take the risk of making it themselves?
“With the influence of cartels’ meth being pure and costing the same amount with less risk, it’s become a more open market,” Dorley said. “Meth is just flooding itself into the streets.”
Meth is just flooding itself into the streets.
Agent Doug Dorley, Drug Enforcement Administration
Southern Illinois is a prime destination for Mexican drug cartels bringing meth into the country, according to the DEA. St. Louis, just across the river, is another big target. The DEA has an office in St. Louis, and Dorley said they’re kept “extremely busy” with drug cases.
St. Clair County is on pace to file close to 200 meth-related cases in 2017, said St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. In 2016, the county had 139, and in 2013, only 69.
This year so far, Madison County has seen its meth charges more than double from the same time frame in 2016, said Tayleur Blaylock, spokeswoman for Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons.
Every county in the metro-east has already passed the number of meth charges seen in 2013, in just eight months.
Because of the drug cartels, home-grown meth laboratories are decreasing, according to Kelly, the St. Clair County prosecutor. As a result, many of the meth charges filed now are for possession, not for smaller, one-pot meth labs, which used to be the case. The small labs are still out there, of course, but nowhere near as prevalent as they were about 10 years ago, Kelly said.
Because of this, the meth problem needs to be attacked at both ends: cutting off the supply at the border and making sure addicts have access to treatment, Kelly said.
But the increase in meth doesn’t just affect the users, Kelly said. It affects everyone surrounding them as well.
Some recent metro-east meth cases include a Granite City woman who faces charges alleging she allowed her 17-month-old son to ingest meth and fentanyl. The woman, 25-year-old Billie J. Cottle, was found overdosing in the bathroom with the child in her arms. In 2015, a Belleville man was sentenced to seven years in prison for cooking meth while a toddler was in the house.
Earlier in 2017, a mother of four crashed on Illinois 4 north of Marissa, and the driver was charged with conspiracy to distribute meth. All of her children were in the car with her during the crash.
“One cost people forget about sometimes with the opioid crisis and the resurgence of meth is the impact it can have on employers and their employees ... and families, as well as government agencies like the Department of Children and Family Services,” Kelly said. “There are many children exposed to the horrific symptoms of this type of drug use.”