The amount of methamphetamine seized in New Jersey and tested by federal authorities skyrocketed by more than 5,000 percent over the course of just a couple years.

Data released in February by the Drug Enforcement Administration, based on reports from law enforcement, show the highly addictive drug is commonly being found in the southern and far western regions of New Jersey. It's still considered the "drug of choice" in some of the state's more rural areas.

"Somebody, if they were looking for meth, they wouldn't have a difficult time finding somebody to get it from," said Timothy McMahon, special agent with the DEA's New Jersey Division.

The substance, known to produce heightened senses of alertness and euphoria, as well as increase a user's heart rate and body temperature, can come in pill, liquid, and crystal form, the DEA said. Long-term abuse can lead to tremors, hypertension, memory loss, hallucinations, psychotic episodes, violent behavior and other side effects.

The drug's increased presence in the Garden State, the DEA said, is likely linked to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. That assumption is based on high purity levels — some as high as 99 percent — recorded in drug testing.

Between 2015 and 2017, the weight of meth seizures sent from New Jersey to the DEA Northeast Regional Lab jumped from 4,468 grams to 257,206 grams.

Adding to the alarming issue, McMahon said, is methamphetamine's appealing price. Typically, a drug costs more as its purity rises. But since 2009, as the purity of meth has risen, the price has continued to drop.

Methamphetamine can produce a high lasting longer than 24 hours. Authorities say the drug can help combat heroin withdrawal symptoms, which is another reason for the rise in usage here.

"Heroin, being a depressant, kind of slows people down," McMahon said. "Meth is a stimulant so it has the opposite effect."

Functioning heroin addicts, he said, can still manage a work week with meth in their system.

The south and extreme west portions of New Jersey are highlighted in the DEA's report, but McMahon said the threat is mainly concentrated in the counties below Mercer County.

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