JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Federal agents are sounding the alarm about a dangerous drug on the rise on the streets of Jacksonville.
Methamphetamine is rising at a disturbing rate. Though use of the illicit drug had dropped, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say they have since seen a sharp increase in the last two years in the Jacksonville area. Across the country, DEA agents say they seized 25 percent more meth in 2018 than 2017, and 2019 may be even higher.
The News4Jax I-TEAM has uncovered details showing meth is the most popular drug locally as the supply has increased and the price has dropped. Agents say it’s being sold every single day and is especially prevalent in middle-class neighborhoods. Former addicts say people should be concerned.
"It's scary," said Rex Taylor, a recovering addict who was hooked on methamphetamine and other dangerous drugs for years. "Right out of high school and into college, the small town that I went to, meth was highly prevalent. It was easily accessible and it was cheap."
He told the I-TEAM it is easy to get meth in North Florida currently.
"I think it’s just a matter of if you want it, you can get it," Taylor said.
Use in the Jacksonville-area dropped significantly several years ago, but as federal agents battle the opioid epidemic the I-TEAM has discovered meth has made an alarming comeback.
"(In the Jacksonville area), we seize more methamphetamine than we do any other drug," said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mike Dubet, with the Jacksonville District Office, who has seen a spike in abuse on the city's streets. "It is not uncommon to arrest somebody with 10, 15, 20 pounds of methamphetamine in the area."
In the past, the stimulant was made in makeshift labs locally -- small batches, cooked by amateurs. But as police busted those operations in recent years, according to federal agents, Mexican drug cartels took over the business.
"They have these huge super labs in Mexico, mass producing the methamphetamine and a very pure -- almost 98 to 100 percent pure -- and sending it over to the United States like they have been with the marijuana and the cocaine and heroin," Dubet said.
Agents say drug cartels are making it more powerful and more plentiful, and are selling it at half the price. Agents have several open cases, trying to stop the spread before it gets any worse.
"We are targeting the organizations. We are targeting the folks that are bringing it into our area. We are targeting the sources of the supply across the border," Dubet said.
In March alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and K-9 officers have busted dozens of meth smugglers attempting to bring large amounts of meth into the United States from Mexico. Those busts last month include:
- 214 pounds hidden in the floorboard of a pickup truck
- 120 pound hidden throughout a vehicle
- 114 pounds hidden inside the trunk of a vehicle
- 70 pounds hidden inside the roof of an SUV
- 64 pounds hidden in the gas tank of an SUV
- 57 pound hidden in a gas tank of an SUV
- 55 pounds hidden within the rocker panels and cargo storage area of an SUV
According to the DEA, the Southwest border remains the main entry point for the majority of methamphetamine entering the United States from Mexico -- with seizures increasing 255 percent from 2012 to 2017.
Rex Taylor knows the consequences of narcotics. He now works at Lakeview Health, a recovery center, and hopes the problem doesn't get any worse.
"At a mass production rate like that and it hitting the streets, we could be on the verge of the next epidemic," he said.
Taylor offered a message to people who are struggling right now with addiction.
"Ask for help," he said. "Help is out there."
The following resources are available for those wishing to get help:
- Lakeview Health - Addiction Treatment and Recovery: lakeviewhealth.com or 866-704-7692
- Narcotics Anonymous First Coast: firstcoastna.org or 1-904-723-LOVE (5683)
Meanwhile, DEA agents say they want information from people to cut down on the drug trade. Tips can be submitted online at dea.gov/submit-tip or by calling the tip line at 877-RxAbuse (877-792-2873).