Feds report record drug seizures as meth, fentanyl flourish amid pandemic in Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- While public health has been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, the feds are sounding the alarm about another health crisis: the high numbers of dangerous drugs they are finding on Houston streets.

Seizures of methamphetamine and fentanyl are up exponentially compared to previous years. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it's proof that, despite COVID-19 restrictions, these dangerous drugs are still crossing the border and destroying lives.

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"It continued. It did not slow down at all," said Steven Whipple, Special Agent-In-Charge for the DEA's Houston Field Division, which also includes a large portion of south Texas. "The only thing that changed is how they brought it in the country."

The drugs moved from passenger vehicles to bigger trucks, according to Whipple, hidden away in gas tanks or secret compartments on 18-wheelers.

The destination is Houston and beyond. The amount seized is alarming.

In 2018, agents confiscated just 49 kilos (108 lbs) of fentanyl. In 2019, the number went up to 53 kilos (117 lbs). In 2020, agents seized 323 kilos (712 lbs).

"Which is a 600 percent increase," explained Whipple. "That's enough fentanyl to kill half of the population in the United States. Two milligrams is enough to OD a person. It's just simple math."

In Houston alone, the Houston Forensic Science Center reports its fentanyl cases went up from 55 in 2019 to 95 in 2020, a 73% increase, and it's being found in other illicit drugs.

When it comes to methamphetamine, seizures almost doubled last year over years past. From 9,817 kilos in 2020 compared to 4,711 in 2019 and 3,145 in 2018. That is a 212% increase over three years.

That's thousands of pounds of drugs seized along with cash and guns. The question is how much more is getting through?

"That's an intelligence estimate," said Whipple.

"It's everywhere. It's not hard to find. It will find you," said Chandler Matte, a 28-year-old from Louisiana who is seeking treatment for a methamphetamine addiction at Cenikor, Inc., a long-term nonprofit treatment provider with a location in Deer Park. "Time flies by. You wake up one day and you're in jail."

"It's in everything," said David Gomez about fentanyl. Gomez is also in treatment at Cenikor for a fentanyl addiction, which started after he lost his wife and two children in a car crash. "I was going through a very heavy grieving process."

The two men are examples of the toll these dangerous drugs have taken on people and their families.

"You lose weight. You lose family members. You lose relationships. You lose everything, absolutely everything," detailed Matte.

He and Gomez are working every day to get well. While both are on a path to eventually help others overcome their dependence on drugs, they fear what the increase in the drug supply is doing.

"I don't think the supply would be as high if the demand wasn't as strong," Gomez said.

"We just have to be smart and stay smart about [traffickers that] are doing it," said Whipple. "It's a battle that's not going to go away."

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