MURRAY — The Utah Highway Patrol says it has seized 316 pounds of meth over the past six months during highway traffic stops — a 31 percent increase from last year.
"Over the last two years, we’ve seen a huge increase in methamphetamine, not only coming into Utah, but also being transported through the state of Utah," UHP Sgt. Steve Salas said Monday.
"We’re just in a geographical location where we’re seizing a lot of meth that’s going to the East Coast.”
Salas added that the amount of meth seized last year was also significantly higher than previous years. Officers seized more than 100 pounds of meth between January and July of 2016.
"Not only do we have a huge number of the population that is using methamphetamine, but we have three major interstates that originate out of Southern and Northern California where a lot of methamphetamine is being transported through our state," Salas said.
An estimated 24.6 million Americans age 12 and older used illicit drugs during a recent month, according to a 2013 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Salas said currently the price of meth is cheap near the border and parts of California, and dealers can potentially double or triple their profit if the drugs are transported to the Midwest and East Coast.
Nearly 1,643 pounds of marijuana was also seized so far this year, along with 6 pounds of heroin and 15 pounds of cocaine.
"Our plan is just to continue doing what we’re doing — traffic enforcement," Salas continued. "We recognize the indicators of criminal behavior, and we’re going to pursue those legally. We’re going to deploy the dogs when we get the chance, and if we can seize it, we’re going to.”
The amount of heroin seized this year decreased by 60 percent, though Salas said heroin is still out there, just not being intercepted on highways.
"There’s usually not large quantities that are being moved in a vehicle," he said.
The department has also seized 12 guns during traffic stops. Most were confiscated along with narcotics inside the vehicle.
"Over the last two years, we have seen a huge increase in guns that are primarily being seized with narcotics during traffic stops," the sergeant said.
Canine units are strategically placed along three major Utah highways — I-70, I-80 and I-15 — to help during suspicious traffic stops.
"They're priceless to us," said Sgt. Jimmy Banks, UHP's canine coordinator. "To be able to help us, to be able to get those drugs off the street, is priceless."
UHP is currently training two new canines, Gus and Chapo. Both are 18 months old and started their training a month ago.
Ashley Stilson is a graduate of Utah State University, working as an intern for the Deseret News. Contact her at astilson@deseretnews