Members of five state and federal agencies visited Sidney and Alliance during the week to discuss the best ways to combat illicit drug use.
Representatives from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office (AG), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Nebraska State Patrol (NSP), and United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the district of Nebraska attended drug forums in the Beggar Towns.
The forums allowed agencies to share tactics and resources to address a growing statewide meth crisis. According to Emily Murray, the DEA’s public information officer, the amount of methamphetamine seized in Nebraska has risen from 196 pounds in 2016 to 768 pounds in 2021, an increase of nearly 300%. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand how much that is,” Murray told the Star-Herald.
The five contributing organizations formed their Drug Enforcement Partnership earlier this year. Murray said the coalition is the first of its kind in the state of Nebraska. The group planned to visit locations across the state and work with local and tribal law enforcement offices. Different organizations can decide on the most effective ways to deal with the drug epidemic.
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Murray emphasized a three-pronged approach to tackling drug use. Although law enforcement is one such measure, it must be combined with treatment and education. “It’s not something we can stop our way from,” she said. “…By raising awareness, we can get people to make informed decisions when they are asked to experience these things.”
If the demand for illicit drug use declines, she said the supply is likely to follow. The seized methamphetamine came from Mexican “super labs,” as Murray called them. They produce methamphetamine which is cheaper to manufacture, easier to acquire and far more dangerous than the methamphetamine produced in the past. The drugs are then crossed on foot, by car or by plane across the US-Mexico border.
The Sidney Drug Forum was held on the campus of Western Nebraska Community College in the city on Tuesday. The Alliance Forum was held at the Knight Museum and the Sandhills Center the next day. Before law enforcement officers met, educational sessions were held at local schools.
Forums were held in Falls City, Red Cloud and McCook earlier in the month. Additional forums will be held at Valentine and O’Neill on Thursday and Friday respectively. The FBI led the selection of cities and chose smaller communities across the state where people might not have many conversations about the community impact of drug use.
Philip Lukens, the Alliance Police Chief, had previously contacted the FBI and the Attorney General’s Office for further assistance with drug prosecutions. He said the forums served as a way to reflect on best practices in drug control “where resources are often limited”. Law enforcement from across the northern Panhandle is attending Wednesday’s meeting.
Methamphetamines aren’t the only drug facing Nebraska cities. The forums discussed a whole host of illegal substances and potential methods of dealing with them.
“Where there’s meth, there’s fentanyl, marijuana and cocaine. If we can get this under control, our community will be better off. It’s going to reduce crime in all its facets,” Lukens said. .