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How did the global pandemic impact drug trafficking in Southwest Colorado?

Levels are back to normal, but users have less reliance on any single narcotic
Members of the Southwest Drug Task Force arrest a man during a coordinated raid in June 2019 on Oak Street in Montezuma County. (The Journal file)

An unintended benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least for a few months, was a decrease in illicit drugs trafficked in Southwest Colorado.

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Joey LaVenture, a member of the Southwest Drug Task Force, said the benefit lasted only a few months after the initial pandemic hit in March 2020.

“I can tell you, it’s changed a little bit as the pandemic has gone on. You know, when the pandemic first hit, there was a lot of closures at the border, and so it was hard to find illegal drugs,” LaVenture said. “There was definitely a few months when there was very little available.”

The temporary reduction in drug trafficking was witnessed not only in Southwest Colorado, but across the nation, he said.

“Because of all the closures, it was harder for traffickers to get their product out,” he said.

The reduction in illicit drug trafficking was confined to only the first few months after the pandemic, LaVenture said, but the amount of illegal drugs he sees now is about back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Everything opened back up again a little bit,” he said. “The traffickers found new ways to get over the border.”

The Southwest Drug Task Force is an interagency collaborative group that includes Durango Police Department, Ignacio Police Department, Bayfield Marshal’s Office and federal agencies. The task force is designed to investigate and break up drug smuggling and drug dealing rings in La Plata County.

One other change LaVenture said might be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic is a trend for drug users to have less reliance on any single, preferred drug.

“I don't know if this is pandemic-related or just changing for everybody, but we've noticed a lot of people who used to be a user of specific drugs – maybe they were a user of meth or fentanyl or heroin – they have become more of a poly-drug user. So they’re not as specifically tied to one type of drug like they used to be,” he said.

LaVenture said the trend toward people being less selective in the drug they choose is something that’s emerged in the past couple of months.

He attributes that to the variables of the black market.

The supply of one drug might be in short supply and so drug users will migrate to what’s available.

“We don’t know for sure if it’s pandemic-related, we don’t have specifics on that, but just the timing of it around the pandemic has us thinking it’s highly likely,” LaVenture said.

Temporary shortages in one illegal drug or another, also creates price spikes, he said.

“You know, if meth is too expensive at the moment, then they might switch over to try something else,” he said.


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