Heroin Highway: How the cartels are running I-15

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SOUTHERN UTAH (ABC4) – Interstate 15 is a major corridor for criminal activity. The more than four hundred mile major artery bisects the entire state, making it a vital corridor for drug traffickers. UHP Troopers are often the first line of defense in keeping highly addictive and potentially deadly illicit drugs off our streets.

The trooper and officers interviewed by ABC4’s Southern Utah Correspondent, Jordan Verdadeiro, prefer to leave their names out of our report out of fear of retribution from the Mexican Cartel. They say that’s the group tied to the majority of their large seizures.

It’s another day for a Utah Highway Patrol Trooper on the Interdiction team looking for illegal activity on I-15.

“Our interdiction team and K-9 team, we’re scattered across the state, we’re just a part-time team so we have the same responsibilities as any other patrol officer,” says an Iron County Trooper.

Roughly a dozen troopers are tasked with identifying and stopping the traffickers who cruise this drug corridor.

“You can get anywhere in the county from using I-15, so anything coming out of the border in California and Arizona, places like that, it’s going to come north and Interstate 15 is the most logical choice for a lot of organizations to move product north and then east across the country,” he says.

It’s a monumental task trying to slow the flow of illegal drugs. The cartels have an endless supply of money and desperate people lined up willing to transport the contraband.

“They go about their business and you know, they don’t have to worry about rules and procedure and rights. They have one focus and it’s to move something from point A to point B to make a profit,” he says.

Just this year in Southwest Utah, the UHP Interdiction team has seized over 80 pounds of methamphetamine, sixteen and a half pounds of heroin, and more than 70,000 fentanyl pills.

“Fentanyl is something we hadn’t even heard of and never saw years ago and now that’s the big one,” he says.

In addition to the Interdiction Team, local officers are working to keep drugs like fentanyl off Utah streets. One Washington City Police officer, choosing to remain completely anonymous, has been involved in some of the largest drug seizures in Washington County.

“There’s no magical car, it’s just a numbers game for me,” he says.

Like troopers, that Washington City Police Officer has witnessed the rise of fentanyl. It’s potent, easy to mass-produce, and even easier to transport illegally.

“And it’s being pressed into small blue pills — they call them ‘Roxy’s’ on the streets, an M30 pill. It’s supposed to be an Oxycodone, but what they’ve done, they’ve pressed fentanyl into it, they’re super dangerous,” he says.

Just in the last three months, the Washington City Police Department has seized nearly 300 pounds of drugs and they only expect those numbers to balloon as the region grows.

“We’re never going to win the war on drugs, it’s just not going to happen, there’s always going to be a need for it, but if we can slow it down and at least try to keep it out of the community, I think that’s a goal we can all strive to do,” the officer says.

Officers say it’s about looking beyond the stop and watching for indicators of any illegal activity.

“We always focus on drugs, but it’s more than just drugs, it might be homicide suspects, suspects from sex assaults, sex trafficking, labor trafficking — there are so many different things,” the Iron County Trooper says.

Officers say they want interdiction teams to keep growing statewide with hopes to see more seizures and fewer drugs and criminals in our communities.

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