Heroin, cocaine among spike in 'hard drugs' seized at border

Published: Mar. 24, 2016 at 7:34 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:23 PM MST
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NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - With 9,000 to 10,000 vehicles passing through the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales any given day, border agents know some are carrying illegal drugs in hidden compartments. The drugs are concealed inside doors, tires, and dashboards, among other places.

Officers even found illegal contraband hidden inside a speaker box stowed in the trunk of one vehicle seized at the port this week.

Illegal immigrant arrests are down in recent years, but drugs continue to be a major factor along the international border with Mexico.

In fact, customs officials saw a 35 percent increase in drug seizures last year compared to 2014 - a trend that continues this year with noticeable spikes in seizures of cocaine and heroin, in particular.

MOBILE USERS: See some of the creative smuggling attempts that have been discovered by border agents HERE.

"I think the biggest difference is we're seeing a huge increase in hard narcotics compared to marijuana," said Guadalupe Ramirez, Director of the Port of Nogales for United States Customs.

So what exactly is going on? The growth of medical marijuana in Arizona and across the U.S. has certainly cut into cartel profits.

One way to recover those losses, officials said, is with harder, more expensive drugs.

"There's a lot more profit in hard narcotics. You can ship a smaller quantity and make more profit, so I think they're taking their chances with that," Ramirez said.

Not only that, but some of the people moving drugs today aren't exactly who you'd expect.

Senior citizens, middle-school aged kids from both sides of the border, even two teenage girls, who were arrested this week carrying nearly two and half pounds of heroin.

The girls, both U.S. citizens, had the drugs attached to their bodies as they attempted to re-enter the United States, officials said.

But due to K-9s, X-ray machines and the highly-skilled eyes of 400 Customs officers at the port of entry, they - just like so many others who make the same mistake every day - were detected immediately.

"I would tell them not only is our interception rate here high, our prosecution rate is also very high," Ramirez said. "And so you will get caught. You will wind up in jail, and it's not worth it. It's just not worth it," Ramirez said.

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