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Meth supply, demand increasing despite strict mandatory prison penalties

Haddie, a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office K9, pictured with about a pound of methamphetamine she alerted to during a traffic stop in Cordes Lakes Monday night, Jan. 14. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy)

Haddie, a Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office K9, pictured with about a pound of methamphetamine she alerted to during a traffic stop in Cordes Lakes Monday night, Jan. 14. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy)

Faced with a rapidly growing methamphetamine epidemic in the mid-2000s, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill in 2006 that singled out meth dealers.

Signed by the governor, it essentially made it so that anyone convicted of making, selling or transporting the dangerous drug would face a minimum of five years in prison — no other drug in Arizona carries such a harsh penalty.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk was a significant proponent to this change in law.

She had witnessed the number of felonies filed in Yavapai County shoot up from 1,596 in 2000 to 2,739 in 2005, and believed meth was at the heart of it.

“We were really peaked in 2006-2007, and what was driving this was methamphetamine,” Polk said. “We just saw a lot of crime associated with meth users.”

Reason being, Polk said, is that meth is a highly addictive stimulant. “Meth users will be up for days at a time and say things like ‘It felt like one hour to me and 24 hours had passed,’ ” she said.

Coupled with a statewide education campaign about the destructive nature of meth, the bill appeared to work at the time, Polk said. By 2011, the number of felonies for meth filed in Yavapai County were down to 1,895.

But that trend started to shift again in 2012. Crime rates gradually increased and, in 2018, the number of felonies filed in Yavapai County was back up to 2,502.

“So even though we have this statute that mandates that meth dealers go to prison and we’re still sending them to prison, we’re seeing more meth and we’re definitely seeing an increase in crime,” Polk said.

Sgt. Jeremy Martin with Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT) confirmed this, saying that meth is certainly gaining in popularity again.

“We have seen a huge increase in meth,” Martin said.

A driving factor, he said, is the price of meth has dropped significantly in recent years, making it a more attractive option for drug users. “The price is incredibly cheap for methamphetamine; much cheaper than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “People usually turn to the cheaper drug.”

“Everything is driven by supply and demand,” Polk said. “Whether it’s the apples that we eat or the drugs that are out there.”

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