GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Piedmont Triad is seeing an unprecedented influx of methamphetamine for the area, with DEA agents comparing it to the amounts they were seeing while on previous assignments along the United States-Mexico border.
"The amounts have increased,” said Dirk Ballou, resident agent in charge of the DEA Greensboro Resident Office. “We've seen that all across the state."
In the past, traffickers would often send large shipments over the border, which would then be distributed after reaching Georgia.
"We're not seeing that now, we're seeing it bypass Atlanta and the bulk shipments are coming here,” Ballou said.
As a result, the DEA office in Greensboro has experienced a 2,000 percent increase in meth seizures since fiscal year 2017.
The office was also contacted by other DEA offices through the United States, who had made large meth seizures -- between 30 and 60 pounds -- bound for the Triad.
"Some of them were stopped before they got to North Carolina, but they were destined for North Carolina,” Ballou said.
The DEA is noticing three major signs that there is a market for meth in the Triad; quantity, purity and price.
Agents have seized shipments as large as dozens of pounds. The meth is entering the state through personal vehicles, commercial transport, as well as U.S. Mail and parcel shippers.
"It's ice, it's very pure methamphetamine,” Ballou said.
At the street level, agents are seeing meth that is 98 percent pure. Meanwhile, the price of the meth has dropped.
"Which is always an indicator that there's a significant amount in the area,” Ballou detailed.
When the meth is cut, agents are finding that fentanyl is being used.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, which is often mixed with heroin.
"Folks are taking meth, the methamphetamine has got fentanyl in it, and that's actually causing folks that are using meth to overdose,” Ballou said.
Agents say there were 11 reported of confirmed overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2015. In 2016, that number more than doubled to 23, then rose to 71 in 2017 and 83 in 2018.
Ballou adds that they are also seeing cocaine cut with fentanyl.
The majority of the meth coming into North Carolina comes from “super labs” in Mexico, Ballou says. There, cartels are able to easily acquire large amounts of precursor ingredients – such as pseudoephedrine – which are now heavily regulated in the United States.
"It's much easier for them to do that there, then they simply smuggle it into the U.S.,” he added.
Ballou says the DEA works with state and local partners to form longer and larger investigations, often using informants and wire taps to make seizures and arrests.
He stresses that law enforcement also relies heavily on information from the public.
With the strength of the drugs being sold, Ballou says someone can become addicted with one use.
"There's obviously drugs where folks become physiologically addicted,” he said. “Methamphetamine has got a very psychological addiction."