Meth remains a concern in Monroe County
In 2020, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department made 26 controlled substances and 45 methamphetamine arrests.
Based on the numbers seen so far, Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing predicts the county is on track to meet – and possibly exceed – these figures.
As of July 9, the MCSD made 24 meth arrests and 18 for controlled substances, which Rohlfing said includes “heroin, cocaine, everything other than methamphetamine.”
While 2020 numbers are not too far from 2019 (23 for controlled substances and 41 for meth arrests), Rohlfing pointed out that COVID-19 changed patrolling operations and things did not return to normal until the last four months of the year.
“We’re on track to get at least the same (number of arrests as 2020) or probably go over,” Rohlfing said. “Last year … during COVID, we didn’t tell our guys not to do anything, but we really tried to have our deputies limit contact with the public because we didn’t know what kind of health crisis we were dealing with – especially in the beginning when everything was coming out.”
Those arrested are most often not Monroe County natives.
“I will say probably two-thirds of our arrests are not Monroe County residents, and at least probably two-thirds to 75 percent of the jail population are not Monroe County residents, so it’s a lot of people who are driving through Monroe County and/or are delivering it into Monroe County,” Rohlfing said.
The most frequent illegal drug law enforcement comes into contact with in Monroe County is meth, Rohlfing said, later explaining crystal meth is especially prevalent right now. Rohlfing and Josh Boyer, chairman of the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities, have noticed most of the meth seen in this county originates from other parts of the world.
“It’s almost easier to make it in another country and more profitable to have it shipped over than it is to risk getting caught here making it,” Boyer said. “It’s cheap enough you can just purchase it from another dealer.”
Twenty years ago, most of the meth seen around this area was produced in Illinois and Missouri. The shift from local producers to international ones occurred within the last decade, Rohlfing found during his time with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“When I was still in the DEA in 2013, we were seeing a shortage of cocaine because a lot of the South American cartels, I noticed, were sending a lot of cocaine over to Europe because they were getting higher prices than in the United States,” Rohlfing said. “So what the Mexican cartels did about eight or nine years ago was start flooding the United States with crystal methamphetamine, which has pretty much taken over the market.”
According to Rohlfing, Monroe County is not too far from two major meth trafficking hubs.
“The primary destination points in the central United States are Kansas City and especially St. Louis because of the interstates,” Rohlfing said. “St. Louis is a major distribution hub and the majority of the narcotics travel up through from the southwest border up through St. Louis, and then go through the North and the Northeast. When I say the North and Northeast I mean the major metropolitan areas like Detroit, New York and Chicago … the majority of the drugs do come from the Southwest.”
Those who are paid to transport these drugs look like “everyday citizens,” Rohlfing said.
He and others in the DEA found traffickers deploy certain strategies to appear innocent – such as sporting patriotic and religious sentiments on their vehicles. The smugglers are also finding increasingly inventive ways to hide meth, such as making hidden compartments in vehicles. Rohlfing even saw a case where a trafficker transported meth in their gas tank.
“I’ve had cases where they were shipping trinkets, porcelain dolls and stuff from South America and Mexico up to the metropolitan area, and when you break them open, they’re full of narcotics,” Rohlfing said. “They like to use a lot of things like Jesus statues or some Catholic saints statues, and once again it’s (to signal) ‘There’s nothing wrong here, don’t look here, don’t look here,’ and a lot of times that’s where it’s at, unfortunately.”
Seeing the drug trade hit so close to home is one of the main reasons Rohlfing ran for sheriff in 2014, he said.
“I had a methamphetamine case that started in Waterloo in 2012, and then it ended up reaching to St. Louis and then it reached to California. It involved a very violent Mexican drug cartel out there in Mexico. I just started seeing things change,” Rohlfing said. “About 2012-2013, we just started seeing more and more (of the) methamphetamine and heroin type drugs and just started seeing some in working the cases in Monroe County, (that’s) what was alarming to me and that’s what really got me involved down here.”
While meth is the most prevalent drug cropping up in Monroe County, it is not the only illegal drug seen here. Rohlfing estimated fentanyl is the second most common illegal drug seen in his jurisdiction, with heroin also being common.
During his time in the coalition, Boyer has heard reports of fentanyl being mixed with meth.
“One of the officers mentioned that they’re seeing, occasionally, methamphetamine mixed with fentanyl, which is interesting because fentanyl is a really dangerous downer, and meth is a really dangerous upper,” Boyer said.
Boyer said from the cases he has seen, fentanyl is perhaps the most lethal drug in the county.
“Fentanyl and heroin are the ones that you typically see that end in (deaths of) people,” Boyer said. “I feel like the speed drugs get you to prison; the heroin drugs get you dead.”
Although the coalition focuses on a wide range of substances, Boyer said most of its work centers around teenagers. In 2012, the coalition started distributing the Illinois Youth Survey, which asks about drug use patterns in eighth, 10th and 12th graders, to public and private schools in the county. Schools could choose not to take the survey, and the coalition does not see which data came from which school.
Because the survey is anonymous, they also are not privy to the students’ names.
Boyer said they began distributing the survey as heroin began to make its presence in the county increasingly known, yet the largest finding related to something else.
“What we found out was that our teenagers in schools weren’t doing heroin, but what they were doing at an alarming rate was drinking, like more than the entire state of Illinois,” Boyer said. “We had teenagers that were binge drinking at a higher rate than the state in our county.”
The coalition distributes the survey every two years, yet because of COVID-19, some schools closed before 2020 results could be recorded. 2018 data shows alcohol is the most commonly used substance among all grades surveyed, with 60 percent of 12th graders having consumed alcohol in the past year. 25 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking – having five or more drinks in a row – within the two weeks prior to the survey.
Still, teen alcohol consumption does not look the same as it did in the past, Rohlfing noted.
“I think we’ve seen a decrease in a lot of the alcohol-related violations from our youth considering how it used to be 20-30 years ago,” Rohlfing said. “When the deputies are out on patrol, we don’t see the underage drinking parties that we used to. I don’t think that this means they’re out using drugs. I just think more of the social-type stuff is at their fingertips with all the technology instead of getting together, sitting around a campfire and drinking a beer.”
Rohlfing has noticed vaping products have become increasingly common among youth in recent years. According to the survey’s 2018 data, 46 percent of 12th graders surveyed reported using tobacco or any vaping product in the last year.
The MCSD has taken several different initiatives to combat drug use, including working with the coalition, holding school presentations and working with Human Support Services to fight recidivism.
Yet, Rohlfing said the most important thing the community can do is educate their children.
“I’d say a big part is just educating themselves and talking to their children,” Rohlfing said. “It just seems like a lot of children are fearless these days and I think a lot of that is just because of social media and it’s not like it was 15-20 years ago.
To view past Illinois Youth Surveys, visit iys.cprd.illinois.edu/results/count. For those impacted by addiction, HSS offers a support group titled PILLARS of Monroe County. The group meets every Tuesday at Human Support Services in Waterloo. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-939-4444 for more information.