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Drug Busts Get 31 Pounds of Heroin Off Salt Lake Streets

Whittney Evans
DEA agent Nicki Hollmann explains how drug traffickers transport heroin.

Law enforcement agencies in Salt Lake County seized 31 pounds of heroin in a series of busts from February through July of this year.   But cracking down on the drug trade is complicated and could have some negative consequences.

Officials say the demand for heroin in Utah is a public health crisis. Drug cartels operating from Mexico are bringing significant volumes of the drug into the state. The latest series of busts led to 21 arrests accompanied by charges that range from distribution and racketeering to money laundering.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes praised efforts of the Metro Narcotics Task Force, which is a collaboration between the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Salt Lake City office and nine Salt Lake Valley Law enforcement agencies.

“The tangible result of all of our combined efforts is the major disruption of trafficking narcotics and deterring those criminal enterprises from operating in our state,” Reyes says.

But Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank told reporters that putting an estimated $2.6 million dent in the regions heroin trade has the effect of inflating the price of the drug

“As the price goes up, I mean the comment was made, no that just means they’re going to commit more crimes to get it,” Burbank says. “You can’t just turn a heroin addiction off.”

West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo say it’s a risk law enforcement must take as part of a larger, holistic approach to tackling the problem. 

“We’re celebrating a small success here today but the problem continues and I agree with the Chiefs,” Russo says. “I agree with the Attorney General and District Attorney that we have to look at this problem in two facets, one from an effective enforcement and prosecution model, but also from a public health area. We have to look at addicts and how do we break the cycle?”

Heroin distribution spiked in Utah after law enforcement agencies cracked down prescription drug abuse. Many addicts turned to heroin, which is a cheaper and more widely available. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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