The landscape of illegal drug use changes over time. Some decades see a huge increase in the use and sales of marijuana; others in cocaine or methamphetamine or heroin.

The fluidity of drug use and sales means that law enforcement must be attentive to the changes not only in usage but in delivery systems, manufacturing methods as well as locations where narcotics are being made or sold.

One of the ways the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office fights the illegal narcotics trade is through a unit called HIDTA. The Sheriff’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) initiative, established in 1997, is a federal program funded by a grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions of the United States.

Maricopa County is definitely one of those areas.

Today our HIDTA initiative is known as the Maricopa County Drug Suppression Task Force (MCDST). It originally began as a collaborated law enforcement response to the clandestine methamphetamine laboratories which were a community epidemic during the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s. Our primary mission at that time was to identify, respond, safely dismantle, investigate and prosecute those responsible for the illegal and highly dangerous manufacturing of methamphetamine throughout Arizona.

Today, law enforcement agencies from across the entire Maricopa County area are a part of our Task Force, including prosecutors from the State Attorney General’s Office and agents from the DEA.

While clandestine laboratories remain the priority of our Task Force, based on enacted legislation, we see that presently the manufacturing of methamphetamine locally has significantly declined and has now moved to Mexico.

Arizona has long been established as a source state for illegal narcotics smuggled from Mexico, and we are currently experiencing an increase in narcotics being smuggled in from Mexican cartels which use our state and county as a launching point for their sales and distribution throughout the United States.

Our Task Force today is multi-faceted to address the illegal drug trade on many fronts. Emphasis is now placed on investigations focusing on cartel-led drug transportation organizations (DTO’s), and money laundering organizations (MLO’s). Our focus is to identify, disrupt, degrade and dismantle these organizations by utilizing desert interdiction, highway interdiction, wiretap investigations, and undercover operations.

This unit has been and remains very successful in its goal of drug interdiction. From 2003 to 2016, for example, the MCDST has served over 605 warrants resulting in the seizures of:

  • Over 1275 pounds of meth, 567 tons of marijuana, 3615 marijuana plants, 78 kilos of heroin and 250 kilos of cocaine. The street value of the seized drugs is estimated to be nearly $1,240,000.
  • The Task Force also dismantled over 320 clandestine laboratories, including the latest epidemic of highly volatile butane hash oil labs, found at nearly all marijuana grow operations.
  • And, most significantly, over 200 children have been rescued by deputies and officers working in the HIDTA unit from the hazardous environments of the labs.