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DEA: Two major illegal drugs flooding NY area

The New York Division of the U.S. Drug

The New York Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration showing some of the large amounts of methamphetamine and fentanyl seized during 2020.  Credit: DEA

An "alarming amount" of fentanyl and methamphetamine has been flooding the metropolitan area, including Long Island, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Long Island addiction experts say the uptick has been fueled by the increased demand by those turning to illegal drugs to ease the isolation and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mexican cartels are responsible for 90% of the drugs illegally imported into the United States, according to Ray Donovan, the head of the DEA in New York.

Between fiscal year 2020 and 2019, there was a 214% increase in the DEA’s seizure of methamphetamine in New York, and a 59% increase in that of fentanyl, Donovan said in a statement.

Overall, methamphetamine seized went from 244 kilos to 767 kilos; fentanyl from 254 kilos to 404 kilos, according to DEA statistics.

The spike is of particular concern because those two drugs have already been the "two top contributors to overdose deaths in the United States" between the year ending in May of 2019 and the year ending in May of 2020, according to Donovan.

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that drug overdose deaths "significantly increased across the United States, especially involving psycho stimulants (methamphetamine) and synthetic opioids (fentanyl)" by 18.2%, from the year ending in May of 2019 to the year ending in May of 2020.

Before the pandemic, Long Island had made progress on reducing the number of fatal overdoses among residents after several waves of an opioid crisis in which Long Island was a major epicenter.

The recent uptick comes as no surprise to those seeking to counsel and treat drug addicts on Long Island, such as Jeffrey Reynolds, the president and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association, and Steve Chassman of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

They both see the hardships caused by the COVID-19 driving more people to the use of illegal drugs.

Chassman, whose group operates a hotline for people seeking help with drug abuse, said there is a noticeable increase in calls for assistance with both drugs during the pandemic. "The social isolation and economic insecurity" has caused people to turn to the drugs for relief, Chassman said.

The pandemic has created "a perfect storm" for drug abuse, agrees Reynolds, whose organization operates several treatment centers.

The fentanyl and methamphetamines that have been flooding the area are produced in "super labs" in Mexico by the cartels, Donovan said.

Initially in the COVID-19 crisis, the cartels had trouble getting their drugs in bulk into the United States because of increased surveillance at the border, and less traffic on interstate highways, making smugglers' vehicles more liable to be stopped by state police, officials say.

But the cartels quickly adapted, using such methods as mailing large numbers of small packages of drugs, and turning fentanyl into pills that were easier to smuggle, Donovan said.

Methamphetamine was even hidden in containers of ordinary baby wipes that were shipped in parcels, DEA agents in New York discovered, Donovan said.

The LICADD hotline is 631-979-1700.

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