Growing Meth Problems In Western Kansas Prompts The DEA To Open A New Office

Oct 4, 2019

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Two years after closing an office in Garden City, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced this week it’s coming back to town.

The agency’s new setup comes at a time when methamphetamine seizures are on the rise in Finney County and the area’s seen some drug-related shootings. Plus, states are grappling with the fallout of billions of opioids distributed throughout the U.S., and western Kansas has few drug rehabilitation options.

More drug enforcement agents means more surveillance of Finney County, which is one of approximately a dozen counties in Kansas that the DEA classifies as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

County Sheriff Kevin Bascue said he’s seen drugs moved through the county in almost every type of vehicle. 

“In regular passenger vehicles, SUV, these trucks … just whichever method that they feel like they can move it without being detected,” Bascue said. He also noted that two people have died in drug-related shootings in the last several weeks in Finney County.

It isn't clear when the office will open. And William Callahan, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s St. Louis Division, declined to comment on the location of the agency’s new office, citing safety reasons. But he said the new team of six, which has started working, will also monitor opioids.

“Through August 2019, the Garden City Finney County Drug Task Force … has more than doubled the amount of methamphetamines seized during the entirety of 2018,” Callahan said. 

He said other substances like fentanyl and counterfeit pills made in China are being shipped by mail, and causing overdoses.

Southwest Kansas’ highways provide a gateway for drugs smuggled from Mexico that are bound for distribution in Kansas City and as far as Chicago, he said, adding that methamphetamines are mostly made in Mexico now and are more potent than U.S.-made meth.

“This area of southwest Kansas has always been attractive for those people who are moving drugs, but also for law enforcement agencies trying to stop that flow,” Bascue said.

When it comes to getting off of opioids or meth, someone looking for addiction treatment in western Kansas may struggle to find a detox facility, according to Lisa Southern. She’s the executive director of Compass Behavioral Health in Garden City, which serves 13 Kansas counties.

“There is a lack of services in all of Kansas and especially in the rural counties of Kansas,” Southern wrote in an email. “People … often have to wait many weeks (or longer) to go to an inpatient facility. There are very few licensed addictions counselors in western Kansas, which only adds to the treatment barriers.”

Bascue said treatment is important.

“Without it, then all you're going to do is, even if you arrest the user, maybe they committed their crime because of an addiction that they have to an illegal substance,” he said. “If it's not treated, then when they're released, then the chances are better that they're going to go back to that particular lifestyle.”

Even with limited options, Southern says Compass Behavioral Health is seeing more people addicted to methamphetamines looking for help.

“It can be difficult to determine if someone has a true psychiatric disorder, than can be treated with medication or if the problem is purely due to drug use,” Southern said. “With extended use, the brain damage from drug use may be irreversible and then helping the person can be nearly impossible.”

Editor's note: The initial story misspelled the last name of the Finney County Sheriff. It has been corrected.

Corinne Boyer covers western Kansas for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @corinne_boyer or or email cboyer (at) hppr (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org