When law enforcement attempts to close one door in the war against drugs, another opens.

And that could be a reason why officials in the South Jersey region are seeing an uptick in activity involving the highly addictive drug methamphetamine.

According to the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, "super labs" in Mexico are pumping out large quantities of meth at incredibly pure levels, and the product has found a market in the southern third of the Garden State.

"Exactly why it's specific to southern New Jersey, we're not 100 percent sure," said Timothy McMahon, special agent and public information officer for the state's division of the DEA.

Despite the near-100 percent purity of the drug, compared to what would be produced in a "mom and pop meth lab," the price for the addictive stimulant has not increased, McMahon said. And that could be driving up demand.

Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland attests to an uptick in the drug's presence in his county. County officials saw 50 meth cases in 2017, Sutherland said — about a 400 percent increase from the year prior. And the case count in 2018 has already surpassed 2017's tally.

"Whenever you see an uptick of something, you have to wonder why and if it's going to increase," Sutherland said. "Sometimes when you're effective battling one issue, like the opioid crisis, then the suppliers go in a different direction."

Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland
Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland

Heroin users and opiate addicts could turn to methamphetamine for a longer high, or just as a replacement substance until they can get their hands on their drug of choice.

Sutherland said he hasn't had conversations with other prosecutors in the region on the issue, but he believes Cape May County's role as a popular tourist destination may be a reason for the local boom in meth-related cases.

"People come from all different parts of the country; that may contribute to it," he said.

In the northern third of the state, the Morris County Prosecutor's Office said methamphetamine is not a pressing issue.

"The Morris County Prosecutor's Office continues to make arrests and seizures with all types of drugs involved, including cocaine, LSD, marijuana and others," a spokesman said. "That being said, heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to have the most severe impact on the county."

Seventy miles north of Cape May County, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Grammicioni said the county's seen "small instances of methamphetamine coming in," but he wouldn't characterize its presence as a "chronic situation."

Besides heroin and opioids, he said, the county is seeing "a lot of" cocaine, Molly and marijuana. In June 2018, the Office took down a drug ring operating out of Neptune that was moving about 10,000 bags of heroin and a kilo of cocaine per week.

Pure cocaine rarely results in fatal overdoses, Gramiccioni said, but officials have seen a spike in the supply of cocaine that's laced with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl contributed to at least 800 of the state's 2,221 drug deaths in 2016.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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