Is COVID-19 driving up the price of illegal drugs?

Reporter: Rich Kolko Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Credit: DEA

Measures to slow down the spread of COVID-19 are also slowing down the illegal drug trade, and while that sounds like good news, it’s having a very deadly consequence for those who are addicted.

Drugs are still getting into the U.S., but by lesser numbers as borders have been closed and trade has slowed. Still, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that drug deaths won’t decrease.

“Smugglers adapt, and they have been adapting,” said Justin Miller, intelligence chief for the DEA in Miami. He said it’s simple economics: When the supply goes down but the demand is there, the price goes up.

“We’ve seen it throughout the state of Florida; we’ve seen it in Southwest Florida particularly. For example, the price of meth has doubled since COVID started,” Miller said.

The new price is about $1,200 an ounce, and with land borders and ports nearly shut down due to COVID-19, there is a shortage of the chemicals used to make meth, many of which come from India or China.

“They are cutting the drugs down, it’s very dangerous. You think you are buying one thing and you’re really not. You are buying something that is completely different, or it might be cut with something that’s very toxic and deadly, even more so than the actual drug or narcotic that you think you are purchasing,” Miller said.

“First users who are getting drugs on the street and we really don’t know what is in them,” said Deborah Comella, executive director of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida.

That means more risk for users, according to Comella.

“Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in overdoses due to COVID,” she said.

The drug Narcan is used by first responders to help save patients who overdose. The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District said they’ve seen an increase in the usage of Narcan; they’ve had to use it 48 times in the last 90 days.

And for the DEA agents and local law enforcement out there working to investigate the drug trade, one thing hasn’t changed.

“It’s a dangerous business; there’s danger each and every day,” Miller said.

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