FAYETTEVILLE -- More powder cocaine has hit Washington County streets this year than last, and that worries law enforcement officials.
The 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force reported seizing 4 ounces of cocaine from January through June 2016. During the first five months of this year, the task force reportedly seized 4 pounds and 8 ounces.
The task force also has seen an increase in cocaine distribution, Sgt. Jason French said.
The task force consists of officers from a dozen agencies, and it investigates drug-related crimes in Washington and Madison counties. The Fayetteville Police Department is the lead agency. French headed the group until recently, before moving to Fayetteville's criminal investigation division. Sgt. Christopher Moad is now over the task force.
Investigators recently found about 3 pounds of cocaine in one home, French said.
Janet Annette Gladner, 37, of 1725 N. Woolsey Ave. in Fayetteville, was arrested April 7 and accused of trafficking about 2 pounds of cocaine, among other felony charges, according to a preliminary police report. Law enforcement officers searched the home and found cocaine, marijuana, Ecstasy pills, a gun, drug paraphernalia and one box of "unknown round patches from China," according to the report.
Gladner also had a ledger and materials used to analyze, package and store cocaine, according to Washington County Circuit Court documents. She is free on $40,000 bond and has a trial set for Tuesday.
The patches found at Gladner's home likely were Fentanyl, a dangerous form of a synthetic opioid, said Timothy Jones, resident agent in charge with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Fayetteville. Investigators are more worried about a possible heroin or opioid epidemic in Northwest Arkansas than cocaine, but cocaine is still dangerous, he said.
And while the task force is finding more cocaine and has more ongoing cocaine cases, the drug's availability remains below that of methamphetamine, Jones said.
Arkansas remains inundated with methamphetamine, he said. About 8 pounds of methamphetamine were seized in May, according to the task force. The same month a year ago, law enforcement officers seized 16 pounds, including 26 ounces of methamphetamine ice, according to records. Methamphetamine ice resembles a chip of ice and is a potent, smokable form of the drug.
French said investigators don't know where the increased cocaine is coming from because those arrested so far have been uncooperative.
The cocaine does not appear to be directly linked to South America, he said.
Colombia has ratcheted up production of the drug since 2013, according to this year's report by the U.S. State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Most of the cocaine supply in the U.S. comes from Colombia, according to federal studies released last year. Cocaine is an addictive stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Cocaine had been declining nationally since about 2006, but it seems to be making a nationwide comeback, federal reports show. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 37,500 pounds of it in 2014, compared with about 60,000 pounds in 2015, according to a DEA summary report. Both numbers are below the 73,000 pounds seized in 2010. The numbers are the most recent available.
Statewide numbers for this year are not yet available, French said.
Jones said he thinks Arkansas is following a national surge.
Cocaine use increased throughout the 1990s and peaked in 2006 before making a steady decline, according to the DEA summary report. Despite the recent increases, levels in the U.S. are lower than in 2006.
Deaths involving cocaine also increased nationwide from 2012 to 2014 but not to the number seen in 2006, the summary shows.
In 2014, 5,415 deaths involved cocaine, up from 4,404 deaths two years earlier. That was fewer than 2006, when 7,448 deaths were reported.
Central Emergency Medical Services doesn't track overdoses by drug, but its records show 457 overdose or poisoning calls in 2016 compared with 291 in 2015 in Washington County.
Cocaine can cause cardiac arrest leading to immediate death, government reports show. The drug increases the risk of stroke, seizures, heart-muscle inflammation, heart damage and bleeding in the brain, according to the institute.
Data from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network show that cocaine is linked to about 40 percent of drug-related emergency room visits nationwide.
Metro on 07/09/2017
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