Officials say series of drug busts in Utah may lead to spike in crime

Posted at 1:33 PM, Aug 21, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY -- Federal drug agents have seized 31 pounds of heroin and more than 21 suspects have been arrested in a series of drug busts across the Salt Lake Valley.

The busts have put a dent in the drug trade and importation of heroin in Utah, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said at a Thursday news conference.

"There are significant drug trafficking organizations operating from Mexico and our southern borders and supplying Utah with significant amounts of heroin," said Nicki Hollmann, the assistant special agent-in-charge of the DEA.

Heroin seized during a recent drug bust

Heroin seized during a recent drug bust

The busts were carried out across the valley from February until now with a majority of the arrests being made in April.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said charges for those arrested ranged from drug distribution to racketeering.

Hollmann said the investigation is not over yet, but law enforcement acknowledged such a significant bust only puts a dent in the drug trade. West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo likened it to a game of "whack-a-mole."

"We took one out today," he said. "Tomorrow, there's probably two more."

Big busts like this put a dent in the drug trade, but police tell FOX 13 a side-effect is crime may also be going up. With so much drugs off the street, the price for what is left has just skyrocketed.

"When you drive the price of heroin up, people are still going to need that fix because there's no alternative for them," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank told FOX 13. "So they may commit more crimes to get more money and those are things we need to be vigilant about."

After a crackdown on prescription drug abuse, authorities say people turned to heroin and its popularity has grown in recent years. On Thursday, prosecutors called for more to be done to treat people with drug addictions.

"We're not going to be able to arrest our way out of this," said Gill. "We're not going to simply be able to prosecute our way out of this. It's something that needs a multi-faceted approach, a partnership between treatment, interdiction and most importantly, the disruption of those who would profit from the addictions of others."