The resurgence of methamphetamine has the attention of law enforcement throughout the region.
In what U.S. Attorney Scott Brady called the “fourth wave” of an epidemic, potent meth created by drug cartels in the southwestern United States and Mexico is making its way into western Pennsylvania.
“Meth is becoming a huge issue, in western Pennsylvania in general,” Brady said during a recent visit to The Tribune-Democrat. “Historically, you had a lot of one-pot operations with people making the drug in their basements or garages ... but now we’ve got drug cartels moving in aggressively.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes meth as “a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.”
The use of the drug took off in the mid-1990s, but it slowed when Congress enacted the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which regulated the over-the-counter drugs used to manufacture it. The new law put a dent in the production of meth, but a new problem emerged: Prescription painkillers.
Brady says the current cycle of drug abuse began with pill mills for acquiring the powerful painkillers, followed by heroin and fentanyl. And currently the rise of meth – again.
With over-the-counter medication more difficult to obtain, cartels are using chemicals from China to create substances that are twice as pure and powerful, and sometimes spiking it with fentanyl, Brady said.
Meth’s impact has already been felt in nearby Ohio, which was one of the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.
“What everybody is doing now is buying the cheap Mexican meth, and not cooking anymore,” Vinton County (Ohio) Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown, said in an NPR report from 2018.
Mary Ann Hale, an elementary school principal in McArthur, Ohio, told NPR: “They’ve moved on from the oxycodone and OxyContin. Right now, the biggest problem is meth.”
Brady said drugs often enter the region through hubs such as Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey. That’s still happening, he said, but more and more drugs such as meth and fentanyl are coming from organized operations based in Mexico, Arizona and California. Much of the supply headed into western Pennsylvania makes its way through “jumping off points” such as Youngstown and Cleveland first, he said.
He said the drug already has a presence in Somerset County, and even though it hasn’t hit Cambria hard yet, “we know it’s coming.”
To that end, Brady said a team effort will be needed to combat the scourge. He has met with prosecutors throughout the region, and said federal grants are available to create task forces to address the issue.
“We also want to remind them that when drugs are crossing state lines – or our borders – we have tools to help them get to the bottom of it,” Brady said. “When you have trafficking like this, it’s more important than ever to stand shoulder to shoulder with our state and local partners. That’s why we’re here.”