Drug Trade Remains Healthy During COVID-19 Pandemic, Task Force Says

Apr 24, 2020, 10:39 PM | Updated: 10:58 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, drug dealers and users remain a section of the population that police said is still not social distancing and heeding warnings to “stay safe (and) stay home.”

“Like none of this stuff is necessarily stopping drug distributors from making a dollar,” said Cpl. Roy Contreras of the Rio Grande Task Force. “That’s what they care about the most, you know.”

In fact, Contreras and others on the task force — which operates under the Utah Department of Public Safety’s State Bureau of Investigation — maintained the drug trade is still very healthy despite the ill effects of the coronavirus.

Rising prices have been the most noticeable change, with agents learning of markups on narcotics in the 30 percent range.

“Pre-COVID-19, you know, (it was) maybe $220, $240 for an ounce of meth and we’ve seen it up to $300, $320,” said Lt. Ellis Alexander.

Alexander said other distributors are keeping prices roughly the same while selling a product with lower quality or purity to balance against increasing production costs.

“The chemicals that are used in Mexico to manufacture methamphetamine, things like that — a lot of it comes from China. Obviously there’s a lot of travel restrictions right now on things coming out of China, so it’s definitely hindering the supply chain,” Alexander said.

Alexander also noted greater risks of being picked up by law enforcement with less traffic on the road.

While drug sales on the streets have remained relatively brisk amid the contagion, efforts to stop the spread of illegal narcotics have also largely been undeterred.

Since its inception in 2017, the Rio Grande Task Force’s directive has been to develop intelligence from street-level observation and stops and follow leads as far as they go in their drug investigations.

“Our agents are focusing on a lot of the higher-end dealers right now, trying to cut it off at the top so it doesn’t get to the low-end street dealers,” Alexander said. “Last month, my agents really got after it.”

In March, Alexander said the task force made 10 arrests for alleged drug distribution and captured 5 fugitives while seizing more than 10 pounds of meth, six pounds of heroin and three pounds of cocaine. Agents also recovered 14 guns.

Drug paraphernalia seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force) Drug paraphernalia seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force) Drug paraphernalia seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force) Drug paraphernalia seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force) One of 14 firearms seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force) Drug paraphernalia and 14 firearms have been seized by members of the Rio Grande Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rio Grande Task Force)

“These firearms were all used by these narcotics traffickers to defend their products,” Alexander said.

Staying healthy remains a significant concern to the agents themselves, who wear personal protective equipment, eye protection and gloves when the job requires they make contact.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Contreras said. “I don’t want to be the one to bring (COVID-19) home, I guess.”

Still, Alexander said the pandemic has not lessened the task force’s resolve to make arrests and take drugs off the streets.

“I think there’s kind of this misconception that law enforcement’s not out there,” Alexander said. “We want to make sure that we’re sending the message out there that’s not the case. We’re continuing to target these individuals who are preying on the vulnerable population.”

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at

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Drug Trade Remains Healthy During COVID-19 Pandemic, Task Force Says