Drug bust

Deputies stopped a man on Interstate 10 with more than 18,000 fentanyl pills and more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine.

FLORENCE — Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies are seeing an increase in the number of drugs trafficked through the county, according to a new yearly report from the office.

The office’s Narcotics Task Force, which investigates local drug supply chains and works to disrupt the drug trade within the county, confiscated a total of more than 132 pounds of drugs over 91 cases, the majority of which was more than 126 pounds of marijuana, according to the report. The task force also confiscated more than 5,221 dosage units of fentanyl.

PCSO’s Anti-Smuggling Unit, which focuses on human and illegal drug smuggling and is a separate unit from the Narcotics Task Force, seized around 134 pounds of drugs including more than 90 pounds of marijuana and around 42 pounds of methamphetamine over 15 cases. It also seized 23,765 dosage units of fentanyl. The Anti-Smuggling Unit works with the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies to stop the flow of illegal drugs and human smuggling through the county.

The amount of fentanyl deputies are encountering and seizing has increased over the last three years, according to PCSO spokeswoman Lauren Reimer.

In 2018, the office had zero seizures of fentanyl pills. In 2019, deputies seized about 700 blue fentanyl pills. In 2020, deputies seized 200,000 pills and so far this year, deputies have seized more than 1 million pills, she stated in an email.

Deputies are responding to a call involving fentanyl about every 40 hours, Reimer stated.

The office does not have specific numbers on the amount of human smuggling that is occurring, according to Reimer. The information on the increase in human trafficking comes from a mix of data and general observations from deputies and reported incidents.

This is the first time the office has released a report of this kind, Reimer said.

The report also lists details such as the number of calls for service deputies responded to last year, the number of traffic accidents, criminal investigations and the activities of various departments within the office.

The report also notes the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on calls for service for the office. Deputies responded to fewer calls for service in 2020 than in 2019, according to the report. In 2019, deputies responded to 43,224 calls for service, and 40,547 calls in 2020.

A list of the top 15 types of calls that deputies responded to in 2019 and 2020 in the report shows that calls for issues such as residential alarms, reckless driving and non-injury accidents decreased as more people stayed home during the pandemic.

It also shows an increase in calls for domestic situations, suspicious acts, noise disturbances and medical issues for probably the same reason.

The report also states that the office started reorganizing the beats that deputies patrol, especially in the northern parts of the county in the San Tan Valley, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Florence and Superior areas where the office gets most of its calls for service. The new beat structure was started in January.

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Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.

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