Cocaine surge part of national trend, investigators say
FAYETTEVILLE — More powdered cocaine has hit Washington County streets this year than last, and that worries law enforcement officials.
The 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force reported it seized 4 ounces of cocaine from January through June 2016. During the first five months of this year, the task force seized 4 pounds and 8 ounces.
The task force also has seen an increase in cocaine distribution, Sgt. Jason French said.
The task force is made up of officers from 12 agencies as of June 30 and investigates drug-related crimes in
Washington and Madison counties. The Fayetteville Police Department is the lead agency. French headed the group until last week and has moved to the criminal investigation division. Sgt. Christopher Moad is now over the task force.
Investigators found about 3 pounds recently in one home, French said. That’s an unexpectedly hefty amount, he said.
Janet Annette Gladner, 37, of 1725 N. Woolsey Ave. in Fayetteville, was arrested April 7 in connection with trafficking about 2 pounds of cocaine, among other felony charges, according to a preliminary police report. Law enforcement searched the home and found cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy pills, a gun, drug paraphernalia and one box of “unknown round patches from China,” according to the report.
The patches likely were Fentanyl, a dangerous form of a synthetic opioid, said Timothy Jones, resident agent in charge with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Fayetteville. Investigators are more worried about a possible heroin or opioid epidemic in Northwest Arkansas than cocaine, but cocaine is dangerous, he said.
The task force is finding more cocaine and has more ongoing cocaine cases, French and Jones said. Cocaine availability remains below that of methamphetamine, Jones said.
Arkansas remains inundated with methamphetamine, Jones said. About 8 pounds of methamphetamine was seized in May, according to the task force. The same month a year ago, law enforcement officers seized 16 pounds, including 26 ounces of methamphetamine ice, according to records.
Gladner also had a ledger and materials used to analyze, package and store cocaine, according to Washington County Circuit Court documents. She is free on $40,000 bond and has a trial date of July 11.
About 0.04 ounce of cocaine has a Northwest Arkansas street value of about $100, French said.
French said investigators don’t know exactly where the cocaine is coming from because those arrested so far have been uncooperative. The cocaine does not appear directly linked to South America, he said.
Colombia has ratcheted up production of the drug since 2013, according to this year’s report by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Most of the cocaine supply in the U.S. comes from Colombia, according to federal studies released last year. Cocaine is an addictive stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cocaine had been declining nationally since about 2006 but seems to be making a nationwide comeback, federal reports show. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 37,500 pounds in 2014, compared with about 60,000 pounds in 2015, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration summary report. Both numbers are below the 73,000 pounds seized in 2010. The numbers are the most recent available.
That increased availability could be reflected in Northwest Arkansas, French said.
Local law enforcement isn’t sure if the spike in cocaine is an anomaly or a trend, French said. Statewide numbers for this year are not available yet, French said. Jones said he thinks Arkansas is following the national surge.
Benton County Sheriff’s Office didn’t provide information about cocaine arrests.
“Is this a saturation or is [cocaine] here to stay, and we have a new problem to deal with — or a reoccurring problem to deal with, in this case,” French said.
Cocaine use increased throughout the 1990s and peaked in 2006 before making a steady decline, according to the DEA summary report. Levels in the U.S. currently are lower than in 2006.
Deaths involving cocaine were up nationwide from 2012 to 2014, the summary shows.
In 2014, 5,415 deaths involved cocaine, up from 4,404 deaths two years earlier, but still a decline from 2006, when 7,448 deaths were reported.
Locally, the drug’s comeback could be a part of increased overdoses. Central EMS doesn’t track overdoses by drug, but its records show 457 overdose or poisoning calls in 2016 compared with 291 in 2015 in Washington County.
Cocaine can cause cardiac arrest leading to immediate death, government reports show. The drug increases the risk of stroke, seizures, heart-muscle inflammation, heart damage and bleeding in the brain, according to the institute. Data from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network shows cocaine is linked to about 40 percent of drug-related emergency room visits nationwide.