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Inside Philly’s DEA

Combating the nexus between drugs and violent crime

Local DEA officials are fighting both the drug epidemic and the violence that often accompanies it. | Image : Courtesy of the DEA Philadelphia Division

The opioid epidemic is running parallel with the COVID-19 epidemic. Vaccines promise an end to the COVID-19 epidemic, but sadly, there is no vaccine to end the deadly opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic is destroying lives in America, as the trafficking of illegal drugs leads to deaths from overdoses and the violent crime associated with drug trafficking.    

Back in October, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea announced that Project Safeguard would identify and prioritize ongoing drug trafficking investigations with a nexus to violent crime.

“Drug trafficking and violent crime are inextricably linked,” Shea said. 

“From the extreme levels of violence in Mexican cartels to the open-air drug markets in American cities, drug traffickers employ violence, fear and intimidation to ply their trade. Neighborhoods across our country are terrorized by violent drug trafficking organizations that have little regard for human life and profit from the pain and suffering of our people. Along with our law enforcement partners, DEA is committed to safeguarding the health and safety of our communities.”

Gun violence, often linked to drug trafficking organizations, requires an aggressive response by law enforcement.

– Jonathan A. Wilson

Jonathan A. Wilson, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division, added, “The DEA Philadelphia Field Division’s long standing partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement allow us to work together in combating violent crime, specifically drug-related shootings and homicides plaguing major cities in Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

“Gun violence, often linked to drug trafficking organizations, requires an aggressive response by law enforcement. The DEA and our law enforcement partners continue to work jointly to leverage all available resources in investigating violent, drug-trafficking offenders.” 

The DEA states that the traffickers who flood America with deadly drugs, such as opioids, heroin, fentanyl, meth and cocaine, are often the same criminals responsible for the high rates of assault, murder and gang activity in our cities. According to the DEA, these criminals employ fear, violence and intimidation to traffic drugs, and in doing so, exacerbate a drug crisis that claims more than 70,000 American lives every year.  

I reached out and spoke to DEA Supervisory Special Agent Patrick J. Trainor at the DEA Philadelphia Division and asked him about Project Safeguard and other issues of concern. 

“We have an enforcement group that’s comprised of agents and Philadelphia police officers who assist the Philadelphia Police Department and the state’s Gun Violence Task Force in investigations involving drug-related crime, such as murders, strong-arm robberies and aggravated assaults,” Trainor said. 

“It was a violent year in Philadelphia with the homicide numbers being pretty disturbing.”

Trainor noted that the opioid epidemic has been horrific across the country, and Philadelphia has been hit particularly hard. 

“There are synthetic opioids, which are pharmaceuticals like Oxycontin and Percocet, and then you have heroin, which is a semisynthetic opioid,” Trainor explained. 

“Many people who develop an opioid addiction did not start with injecting heroin. Many people were prescribed legitimate prescriptions for treating pain, but the drugs are addictive. People developed addictions to these drugs, and while most doctors will cut you off, some doctors will continue to prescribe the drugs for money, sex or other things. 

“So if you’re buying these pills to avoid getting sick, it can get ridiculously expensive. Very often, people will make the transition from pills to heroin, which is readily available in Philadelphia and could be purchased for as little as $5 a bag.”          

And as Trainor notes, opioids are not the only illegal drugs being trafficked in Philadelphia. There is also methamphetamine.

People developed addictions to these drugs, and while most doctors will cut you off, some doctors will continue to prescribe the drugs for money, sex or other things.

– Patrick J. Trainor

“For a very long time, Philadelphia was the East Coast capitol of methamphetamine production,” Trainor said. 

“Until the late ‘90s or early ‘00s, methamphetamine was dominated by Italian organized crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs. That whole market is now dominated by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.” 

Trainor said the cartels produce methamphetamine in record amounts due to their access to significant amounts of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture it. 

“We have noticed in our region an overabundance supply of methamphetamine. It’s very cheap, which is indicative of how much of it there is. At one point, 20 years ago, a pound of methamphetamine would cost at minimum $10,000. You can get pounds of methamphetamine now for $2,000 or $3,000. And the purity level is through the roof. 

“A significant amount of methamphetamine is supplied by the same organizations that are selling and trafficking illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin or fentanyl. People who are dealing with opioid-use disorder, using a drug like heroin or fentanyl, very often will take a stimulant like methamphetamine to try to stave off withdrawal symptoms. The Mexican cartels had an incredibly audacious plan to dominate all of the drug trades.”

The DEA in Philadelphia and across the country is fighting the good fight against drug trafficking and violent crime.

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week.

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  • Paul Davis

    Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has covered organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white collar crime, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime.com

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