LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – An extensive cross-border drug network is funneling enormous amounts of methamphetamine into Las Vegas to be trafficked and sold.
From 2017 to 2019, the amount of meth seized has more than doubled from 47,000 lbs. to 112,000 lbs., officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration told the I-Team.
Drug cartels begin their work 1,000 miles away from Las Vegas in the depths of the jungle in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Photos provided by the DEA show jugs full of chemicals and machinery hooked up to generators. Cartels can produce thousands of pounds of meth at once, all under the cover of trees and tents.
“They prey upon the addiction of others,” DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Neill said. “It’s easy to transport and there’s definitely a demand.”
Smugglers can get meth across the border by hiding large of amounts of drugs in plain sight. Border Patrol agents and the DEA have found meth and other drugs stashed in the axles of cars.
“They get it through cars, planes, boats — you name it,” Neill said.
The meth then makes its way up Interstate 15, often destined for Las Vegas. The city’s location in the Southwest and its abundance of hotel rooms make it a perfect spoke on the drug-dealing wheel.
“(They can) rest here for the night and maybe distribute it north or out East,” Neill said.
In October, drug agents in California seized the largest amount of meth in federal government history as part of a raid early this month. During a search of a drug courier’s home in Perris, California, agents seized 893 pounds of cocaine, 13 pounds of heroin and 2,224 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.
All the drugs are believed to have been brought into the country from Mexico and were stashed in duffel bags, officials said. Some could have ended up in the Las Vegas valley, Neill said.
Also, in October, the FBI arrested two brothers on allegations of transporting 100 pounds of meth from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Undercover agents arrested the brothers in a parking garage at Red Rock Resort on Oct. 14, court documents said.
One pound of meth is enough for 3,200 individual doses, officials estimate.
Drug overdoses continue to be a leading cause of death across Southern Nevada. Over the summer, deaths from fentanyl, which is 30- to 50-times more potent than morphine, exceeded the number of deaths from prescription opioids in Clark County.
The surge of large of meth coming into valley is concerning, Neill said. Deaths in Nevada from methamphetamine could soon overtake the overdose rate for other drugs. The COVID-19 pandemic is fueling more pain and addiction. Overdoses were up 30% in the spring and summer of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.
“It’s multiple times a month we’re seeing those big seizures,” Neill said. “They don’t care if you have a family, have friends or have a job.”
Neill noted the joint work among his agency, the FBI and other organizations as dealers use our backyard to fuel what is happening in theirs.
“It’s great enforcement by the men and women of local law enforcement to in getting this stuff off the streets,” Neill said.