SPECIAL REPORT: Drugs and Violence an Increasing Problem in West Texas

SPECIAL REPORT: Drugs and Violence an Increasing Problem in West Texas

By Kim Powell

NewsWest 9

WEST TEXAS - Crime scene tape, flashing lights, and wailing sirens; it's a familiar sight in the Permian Basin with a growing number of aggravated robberies, home invasions, and even homicides. But what do most of these crimes have in common? They're all drug-related. "We had 10 homicides here in Odessa last year and I believe 8 or 9 of those were drug-related," Steve LeSueur, the spokesperson for the Odessa Police Department, said.

Marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine are constantly being trafficked through West Texas, making their way into town for retail and consumption. Where that habit is, is the need to feed that habit.

Thousands of pounds of drugs are seized at the Mexican border every year, and what slips through the cracks often makes its way through West Texas. Both cocaine and marijuana are the top drugs that are being smuggled through the Permian Basin for distribution to other parts of the country.

"Now on the other hand, on the consumer basis, we have a large increase of methamphetamine trafficking into the area for distribution consumption in the area," Dante Sorianello, the resident agent in charge for the DEA office in Midland, said.

Stephen Linneman, the owner of Drug Screen Compliance, says he's seen an increase in positive test results for methamphetamine for the last five years.

"When the increase of population happened with our oil boom, we also got an increase positivity rate, so along with that increase came the increase of drugs and the increase of positives that we saw in our community," Linneman said.

When the narcotics make it into the town, so do the bad habits that come with them. Soon it's crime fighting crime, violence against rivals competing in sales, and those who are addicted who just keep wanting more.

"Lower level, desperate drug abusers, drug addicts, they need to feed that drug habit," Sorianello said. "And if they have gone to a level where they're not employable or they're not employed, they may commit crimes, sometimes acts of violence, to get money or items they can sell or trade to get their narcotics."

"A lot of the burglaries we have here are committed by criminals who are simply trying to get money to feed their drug habits," LeSueur said.

Many have noticed a rise in crime when the oil prices started to drop and the layoffs were announced, which in turn brought many people to applying for new jobs and heading to the drug lab.

"We still see a consistent problem. The drugs have not been eliminated or decreased in their use and in fact I would say we even still see an increase in our rates," Linneman said.

So what's being done to stop the retail and consumption of deadly drugs in our area? Well, according to law enforcement, a lot.

"We constantly make drug arrests. Not just for misdemeanors, but for felonies. We constantly make felony drug arrests, all the time. Every single day here," LeSueur said.

The Midland DEA office, which is in charge of nine counties, has arrested more than 120 drug offenders in the last six months. In January, multiple agencies worked to bring down two different drug rings that were operating in Midland and Odessa. One of which even used an ice cream shop to front their sale for cocaine. This is just one of the many investigations they're working on to bring down some of the biggest organizations.

"Our focus is to target the traffickers at the very highest levels," Sorianello said.