Mexican cartels funneling meth to Washington state during pandemic

In the middle of a pandemic and a recession, drug cartels are doing a booming business.

In Washington state, the Drug Enforcement Administration says methamphetamine is coming in from Mexico.

"We are very concerned. You'll have regional distribution cells up here. These are high-level managers that are communicating directly with Mexico," said Keith Weis of the DEA office in Seattle.

In February, the DEA announced a crackdown on the cartels' eight major transportation hubs in the United States including Los Angeles, Phoenix and El Paso that funnel meth to the Pacific Northwest.

On the streets of Capitol Hill two weeks ago, KIRO 7 followed Travis Berge as he searched for used syringes with remnants of methamphetamine. Berge is a longtime meth user and well-known to Seattle Police.

"Really there is nothing in my life that makes me functional quite like meth," said Berge.

Last December, Radalyn King was accused of being high on meth when she drove onto a sidewalk on Aurora Avenue. Her vehicle struck four people and killed a brother and sister. In late December, Lee Skelly said he was high on meth when he drove a van through the front entrance of a Ross store in Burien.

Berge was arrested last June for assault, property destruction and resisting arrest. He served 240 days in the King County Jail and entered counseling. KIRO 7 caught up with Berge after his release in February. He said he was only doing meth on weekends.

"I've completely changed my life from what I was doing before, shooting up meth 24/7, staying up all week, eating trash. I've reconnected with my whole family," said Berge.

Meth overdoses have quadrupled in King County. "We have seen a massive increase in methamphetamine overdoses the last five years," said Dr. Caleb Banta-Green of the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

In 2019, Berge downplayed the danger. "People overdose on heroin really. People don't die off speed."

While Naloxone is saving the lives of opiate users, there is no such antidote for overdoses involving meth.

The cheap, long-lasting high of meth is attractive to users. The DEA is seeing a dramatic increase in Washington state.

"The prices have gone down and the purity levels are high. Last year, we had a record year. We seized over 3,200 pounds of methamphetamine," said Weis.

Last month, Berge was back on the streets of Seattle and back on meth every day. "COVID hit and I couldn't get to a psychiatrist or a library to get a job." While Berge vowed to return to his treatment program and pay restitution to his victims, he said his first priority was finding his next high.

“I haven’t done meth since yesterday. So, I’m gonna go and get high,” Berge said.