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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Local meth arrests rise as prices reach record lows

Local meth arrests rise as prices reach record lows

Sheriff’s offices in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have reported an uptick in meth-related arrests in recent years, which officials say has been fueled by Mexican cartels driving down prices by flooding the market with the illegal drug.

The Lafourche Sheriff’s Office meth-related arrests have almost doubled in recent years, rising from 106 in 2015 to 200 in 2017. This year is on track to keep up with last year, with 110 meth-related arrests made as of June 29.

The Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office has also seen an increase. In 2013, deputies arrested 19 suspects on a possession-of-meth charge and arrested six on a charge of possession of meth with intent to distribute. In 2017, those numbers jumped to 87 and 60, respectively.

Debbie Webber, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in New Orleans, said most of the methamphetamine available in southeast Louisiana is smuggled over the Mexican border.

Strict U.S. controls over the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used to produce meth that’s found in medication like Sudafed, have made it more difficult to produce the illegal drug within the country. But Mexican drug traffickers can buy bulk shipments of cheap pseudoephedrine from countries where it’s not regulated, Webber said, and they can cook the drug in mass quantities for shipment across the border.

As a result, the New Orleans DEA has seen fewer of the small meth labs that were littered across the state but cheaper meth available on the streets.

“Users or abusers are not going to the trouble of making it themselves when they can get it cheaper,” Webber said.

Meth prices across the country have reached record lows, according to the DEA’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.

Lafourche sheriff’s Lt. John Champagne said meth used to go for roughly $120 to $180 a gram in the local area. Now, he’s seeing prices as low as $30.

“They’re flooding the market with it,” Champagne said.

While heroin is the No. 1 drug threat for the New Orleans DEA division -- which spans across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — meth is the top drug threat in some pockets of the state, such as Shreveport and Baton Rouge, Webber said.

Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said he’s also seen fewer meth labs but many drug-related arrests.

“We’re going to houses today where people are hallucinating on meth, heroin -- some of them are not breathing,” Larpenter said. “We’ve got to try to revive them. Crystal meth — they’re out there trying to kill their families. We’ve got to worry about getting them out of the house safely. We’ve got SWAT teams being called out more.”

Champagne said dealing with someone coming off a meth high can be tricky because the drug can trigger paranoia in the user. Police use de-escalation techniques like trying to talk suspects down to avoid them resisting arrest or doing something harmful, Champagne said.

Like other drugs, traffickers often mix meth with other substances — including the synthetic opioid fentanyl, Webber said. Fentanyl can be 50 times stronger than heroin, and as little as a few grains of the product can pose a deadly threat.

“You don’t know what they’re putting in it,” Webber said. “Fentanyl is so cheap, and that’s what makes it so much stronger. Any dose of fentanyl mixed in that meth — that’s a lethal dose.”

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Natalie Schwartz can be reached at 857-2205 or Follow her on twitter @nmschwartz23.