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Montezuma-Cortez narcotics team seizes record amount of drugs in 2023

Fentanyl pills ere seized in the county last year. (Courtesy photo)
Meth and fentanyl remain biggest problem for narcotics unit

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 6 released a report that detailed drug seizures done by the Montezuma/Cortez Narcotics Investigation Unit in 2023, the biggest year for the unit to date.

The seizures came from investigations involving large drug trafficking organizations and do not include narcotics seized during traffic stops and similar scenarios.

The statistics were released to inform the public about the drug crisis in Montezuma County, according to the Facebook post.

“These seizures are all the result of countless hours put in by the amazing team at the Montezuma-Cortez Narcotics Investigation Team,” the Narcotics Investigation Unit said. “This team is comprised of members of the Montezuma County Sheriff's Office and the Cortez Police Department. Their tireless efforts to rid our community of these dangerous narcotics speak volumes to their dedication to community and service.”

Sheriff Office’s Detective Sgt. Victor Galarza told The Journal that 2023 was the narcotic unit’s biggest year.

“The numbers are staggering,” Galarza said. “Cortez has no doubt become a regional hub for distribution based on our previous investigations. We sit on a secondary route of drug trafficking, but it’s not just that. It’s the organizations that have found Cortez to be just right for their illegal activities.”

The trafficking organizations have become emboldened in Cortez because of the low number of officers and low funding for officers, Galarza said.

“That’s why these people come here and take advantage of us,” he said.

During 2023, the narcotics team seized narcotics including about 278.98 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.94 pounds of fentanyl, 7.4 pounds of cocaine, 26.89 pounds of ketamine, 0.074 pound of LSD, and 0.27 pound of mushrooms.

They also seized 13 firearms, six of which were stolen.

Drugs seized in Montezuma County in 2023

Methamphetamine: 278.98 pounds (126,542 grams)

Fentanyl: 1.94 pounds (878 grams)

Fentanyl powder: 0.98 ounce (28 grams)

Cocaine: 7.93 pounds (3,601 grams)

Illegal marijuana: 5.7 pounds (2,590 grams)

Fentanyl/marijuana mixture: 1.26 ounces (36 grams)

Ketamine: 26.896 pounds (Ketamine: 26.9 pounds (12,200 grams)

LSD: 1.16 ounces (33 grams)

MDMA ecstasy: 1.83 ounces (52 grams)

GHB depressant: 4.62 ounces (131 grams)

Mushrooms: 4.4 ounces (125 grams)

13 firearms seized (six were stolen)

The team shared that the large numbers are disturbing because officers intercept an estimated 15% to 18% of the narcotics being brought into a community.

Some of the investigations in these cases are ongoing. After the federal Hot Summer Nights investigation last year, all nine suspects pleaded guilty.

The Narcotics Investigation Unit knows of 23 drug trafficking organizations that are active in the area, with an undisclosed amount of trap houses used to distribute narcotics, according to Galarza.

Galarza said that distribution can take place anywhere, however, even in parking lots or inside local businesses.

“I’ve actually sat down and documented an actual delivery of narcotics at 1 in the afternoon in the parking lot of a business here in Cortez,” he said, adding that he’s witnessed another take place midafternoon in front of a church.

Out of all the drugs being seized by the unit, Galarza said that meth and fentanyl are the unit’s biggest problem.

“Methamphetamine and fentanyl are our number one problem, hands down. One pill (of fentanyl) can kill you,” he said, adding that fentanyl is more than just a “war on drugs.”

“Fentanyl is more than that. Today, it’s a war to prevent our citizens from dying,” Galarza said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 1 kilogram of fentanyl can kill 500,000 people. One kilogram is 1,000 grams. More than 900 grams of fentanyl were seized in the area just last year with the combination of fentanyl pills and powder.

The average weight of one blue counterfeit oxy-30 fentanyl pill is 0.110 grams. Now, Galarza said they have found nine different types of these pills in various shapes in colors in Montezuma County.

Last year was the first time the unit found marijuana laced with fentanyl.

“Our job is to infiltrate, dismantle and destroy drug trafficking organizations,” Galarza said.

On a Facebook post, the Narcotics Investigation Unit thanked the other groups that helped with the drug seizures in 2023.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our federal partners who help make these long-term investigations possible,” the team said. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service.”