Mexican drug war
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed 25,000 soldiers across the country to battle drug gangs, which have responded with bold attacks on the military and police. More than 4,000 people have been killed in turf wars, assassinations and shootouts since Calderon took office in December 2006.
That number is on par with the number of troops killed in the Iraq War over the last five years.
Grocery shoppers these days are paying the same amount of money for a smaller amount of cereal.
Strangely enough, the same can be said for crack cocaine users.
Because of an ongoing drug war in Mexico, Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh and county Detective Capt. Anthony Q. McClure say, the supply of cocaine from Colombia to the United States has been disrupted within the last couple of months.
Dealers are trying to stretch their cocaine supplies further, Berosh and McClure said. That’s means there’s probably about half the usual amount of the drug in a rock of crack cocaine.
“Our confidential informants are telling us it’s dry for the moment,” McClure said.
Make no mistake, however: Cocaine hasn’t vanished from the streets of Beaver County. The county law officials say other drugs, including marijuana, heroin and OxyContin are still available, as well.
But with the cocaine supply, McClure said, it’s being disrupted on the way to cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Youngstown, Ohio, and other areas from which the drug eventually makes its way into Beaver County.
McClure said local buyers once were able to get three or four ounces of cocaine at one time, according to the confidential sources, only an ounce or so is available now.
Not only are border patrols between Mexico and the United States helping to slow the trafficking, Berosh and McClure said, but the Mexican government is actively engaged in a war against illegal drugs.
Drug dealers are trying to get their product out by more creative means. Last week, according to published reports, Mexican forces seized a small makeshift submarine off the nation’s Pacific coast. They found 5.8 tons of cocaine packed inside, which would have a street value of millions of dollars.
Four Colombian crew members claimed they were fishermen ordered by drug cartels to move the cargo.
With a limited supply, there are likely drug rip-offs going on, McClure said — in other words, dealers ripping off their buyers.
Berosh said that for drug dealers, rip-offs have always been a part of doing business, and losses were built into their profit margins. However, with supply tight, dealers “can’t tolerate rip-offs at all.”
One concern is that drug violence will escalate, McClure and Berosh said, though that hasn’t happened yet in Beaver County. McClure said there likely have been rip-offs occurring, but drug dealers aren’t inclined to report such incidents to police.
In Pittsburgh, the city has been wracked by drug violence in recent months, with several murders attributed directly to the drug trade. However, it wasn’t clear if those slayings were linked to any disruptions in the cocaine supply.
Pittsburgh police did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Also, McClure said, dealers are likely trying to stretch out the supplies they have on hand. That means a dealer might dilute an ounce of cocaine into two or three ounces to make the same number of rocks of crack, thus increasing their profit.
Of course, the less cocaine in a rock, the less potent it is for the user. But the price stays the same: $15 to $20 a rock.
“It’s still enough for street people to at least continue the indulgence,” Berosh said.
McClure said the situation can also slow police investigations. Police use confidential informants to set up drug buys, and less product means fewer undercover buys.
Allegheny County Police Lt. Harold Cline said Friday that his department hasn’t seen a decrease in the cocaine supply, or higher prices in recent weeks. However, he said, it’s not a rare phenomenon.
At least a couple of times a year, Cline said, county police might find what they call a “drug drought,” in which cocaine and other drugs supplies are pinched. He said if there is a major bust, the price of the drug can rise as the availability of the drug drops.
Also, Cline said, disruptions can be caused by a dealer’s arrest or the dealer simply leaving the area for a time.
Cline said that when a disruption hits, it can be in a limited area, as well. For example, he said, at a time when cocaine is in short supply in McKees Rocks, it’s plentiful in Duquesne.
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s office, said Friday that with several “large-scale” drug investigations going on, the supply of cocaine still exists throughout the state.
However, he said that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it has become harder for smugglers to bring their product into the area. He said most of the cocaine that comes into Pennsylvania is funneled through New York City.
“When there is a major drug bust, you will see prices spike as the supply is disrupted, but unfortunately, there’s usually someone willing to take their place,” Harley said.
Harley said the problem statewide doesn’t stop with cocaine. He said prescription drug abuse has risen to the point where it’s second only to marijuana in the state.
Drug busts and seizures, however, do make a difference, Harley said.
In March, the attorney general’s office announced they had broken up two major cocaine rings in a sting dubbed Operation Dry Spell.
The bust was so named because cocaine was in short supply on Philadelphia streets after a massive U.S. Coast Guard seizure of the drug off the coast of Panama in March 2007.
Harley also pointed to a drug bust last year in which more than a dozen people were arrested in Beaver and Allegheny counties and charged with distributing black tar heroin throughout the region.
“I don’t think you can say it’s made a comeback,” Harley said.