For Drug Traffickers, All Roads Lead to Utah

While methamphetamine use has declined somewhat in recent years and the drug has fallen out of the spotlight, it remains a major problem. Utah has a particularly large and ongoing problem with meth abuse, and experts believe that it may be connected to the fact that the state lies at a major transportation crossroads.

The U.S. government made a concerted effort to root out domestic meth labs over the past decade by increasing the penalties for producing meth and making it more difficult to acquire the necessary ingredients. However, these efforts have largely resulted in “homegrown” meth being replaced by methamphetamine that is imported by Mexican drug cartels.

The imported drug then needs to be distributed across the country, and that is where Utah’s position as a transportation hub meets and worsens its drug problem. Interstates 15, 70 and 80 all intersect within the borders of the state, and all three interstates are major drug trafficking routes. In addition, U.S. Highways 89 and 191 are direct routes between Utah and Mexico. Although Utah does not share a border with Mexico, the volume of drugs trafficked through the state is nearly as high as those that do because its transportation infrastructure connects it with so many parts of the country.

Methamphetamine Third-Most Abused Drug in Utah

In Utah, methamphetamine is the third-most commonly abused substance after alcohol and marijuana. More people in the state abuse methamphetamine than abuse heroin, cocaine or prescription medications. Furthermore, methamphetamine is the second-most commonly abused substance (after alcohol) among people aged 25-64 in Utah. While treatment admissions and other data suggest that methamphetamine use in the state peaked in 2006 and has decreased slightly since then, this drug is still a serious concern.

Other dangerous illegal drugs also find their way to Utah from Mexico. The heroin and cocaine distributed in the state come almost entirely from criminal groups in Mexico, and these groups often transport these products through Utah for the same reason that methamphetamine passes through the state.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), cocaine that crosses the border to California is then transported through Utah in order to reach Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, Ohio and New York. Information from the DEA also suggests that the majority of heroin seized in Utah is in the process of being transported from Southern California to another state.

Difficult to Reduce Drug Supply in Utah

However, the fact that large volumes of imported illegal drugs pass through Utah on the highways does not necessarily mean that the amount of drugs being distributed and sold within the state is drastically higher than in other states. The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that the overall drug abuse rate in Utah was actually lower than the average nationwide rate. In 2001, the percentage of drug-related federal sentences in Utah was 17.2 percent, compared to 41.2 percent nationwide. However, of the drug-related federal sentences in Utah, the percentage connected to methamphetamine possession was a whopping 64.7 percent compared to 14.2 percent nationwide.

Utah’s position as a transportation thoroughfare may not currently translate into higher-than-average drug abuse rates, but it does make Utah a focus when it comes to cracking down on drug trafficking and confiscating contraband. Furthermore, the fact that Utah is such an important destination for drug distribution means that drug abuse in this state may be that much harder to combat, at least when it comes to reducing the supply of drugs available.

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