Law enforcement officials are sending more meth, marijuana and opioids to Iowa’s crime lab than in recent years.
Statistics from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Criminalistics Laboratory show that through the first six months of 2018, more than 251,000 grams — about 553 pounds — of seized marijuana was sent to the lab for testing. This already eclipses the total amount received by the lab in both 2017 and 2016, which was about 186,000 grams and 237,000 grams respectively.
Methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl submissions continue to rise as well.
“We’re getting a lot more (drugs), not just in terms of quantities ... but the cases, the number of assignments created,” said Bruce Reeve, administrator for the lab.
The Dubuque Drug Task Force also is reporting increased activity, both in the number of cases and quantities of drugs seized.
“I would say this trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Gary Pape said.
State lab statistics show marijuana continues to be the dominant drug submitted by authorities for analysis.
Reeve said the lab continues to see a large amount of marijuana products, such as food and wax, primarily from the retail market of Colorado where the drug is legal.
However, the amount of methamphetamine recovered by law enforcement has been increasing dramatically. Through the first half of 2018, meth submissions — about 147,000 grams — were almost double that from the same time frame in 2017 and approach the total for that full calendar year.
Meth made locally in small labs is becoming less common, Reeve said. Most of the meth in Iowa is imported, usually from Mexico, and is in “ice” or “crystal” form.
“It’s certainly true that we’re seeing more volume of crystal meth,” Reeve said. “The purities (of meth samples) are very high, 97 percent on average.”
Heroin and fentanyl submissions also are pacing higher through the first six months of this year, though at much smaller quantities than meth and marijuana.
In fact, the statistics across four categories — pure heroin, pure fentanyl, heroin/fentanyl mix and fentanyl mix — were higher through the first six months of 2018 than for all of 2016. That year, heroin submissions totaled 351.6 grams, fentanyl submissions were 1.64 grams, 17.66 grams of heroin/fentanyl mix were collected, as were 13.35 grams of a fentanyl mix.
Reeve said the big increases in those opioid categories is concerning, especially when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs. The Drug Enforcement Administration states as little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal for most people.
Reeve said fentanyl isn’t just being mixed with other opioids but also other categories of drugs, such as stimulants.
Reeve said the increasing drug trends can stretch the resources of the lab. There are 12 employees capable of handling drug testing. Reeve said they work to find efficiencies and will prioritize testing for cases that have fast-approaching trial dates.
Marijuana, meth and opioids are dominant concerns for the Dubuque Drug Task Force.
Stats for the first six months of 2018 show marijuana and meth seizures will eclipse 2017 year-end totals and are just below 2016 year-end totals. Heroin and fentanyl seizures are almost equal to 2017’s year-end total, but the figure still is less than half of 2016’s year-end total.
Pape, who coordinates the task force, said seizure amounts can fluctuate based on a large bust or two. He said the overall number of cases is increasing.
He said it’s unusual to have three different drugs be so prominent in the community.
“It’s very labor-intensive,” he said.
Maquoketa Police Chief Brad Koranda said his department has observed trends similar to what’s being seen in the Dubuque area. The agency will work with the Dubuque Drug Task Force on cases.
“We’re dealing with a lot of the same people that come back and forth (between Maquoketa and Dubuque),” Koranda said.
Koranda said while his officers haven’t encountered a lot of heroin during traffic stops, he knows it’s in the community.
In Delaware County, Sheriff John LeClere said his department has seen drug seizures going down in recent years.
“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he said.
The majority of drugs LeClere’s deputies see are marijuana and meth.
Koranda and Pape said they both are aware of how busy the state lab is with handling evidence submissions, and there haven’t been problematic delays for either agency.
“If they can, they try to work with us to expedite something,” Pape said.
Pape said the task force does the best it can on investigations given the manpower and funding available.
“I think we have some pretty darn good investigators here that work hard,” he said.
The task force is shared by the Dubuque Police and Dubuque County Sheriff’s departments. The latter is the lead agency.
Chief Deputy Dave Riniker agreed that the workload is increasing for the task force, but both agencies would have to agree on what additional resources can be added to help.
“That would have to be something that we would have to coordinate between both agencies to determine what the needs are and what we can realistically add based on our budget and, of course, the needs of our community,” Riniker said.