Illicit drugs flow across the Mexican border day and night. The supply matches what seems to be an un-ending demand.
Border patrols, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement are waging a war on the drug cartels.
Pinal County Sheriff, Paul Babeu says his officers are on the “front lines,” but many more are caught in the middle. “It’s criminals against criminals here in our state and sometimes that ends in shout-outs and people getting killed right here in our county,” says Babeu. “We have had this happen countless times.”
It’s happened all too closes to Scott Blevins farm. “Within a five mile radius of this farm, I know for a fact, that there’s been two people killed by the drug cartels.” Blevins has lived in the area for nearly a decade. About three years ago, he says he noticed a change. The cartels, emboldened and driven by greed, started closing in on his land. “I had a drug load that was seized on my property,” says Blevins. “To finally see it happen on the farm here, I just said something’s got to stop. We’ve got to do something. So I started speaking up.”
Blevins also started arming himself. A Glock is strapped to his ankle and he carries a bullet proof vest and a rifle in the cab of his tractor. Blevins says he won’t hesitate to use either gun. “If someone approaches me in the middle of the night, I will shoot. I’ll shoot to kill and ask questions later.”
“Things aren’t getting better,” says Babeu. “They’ve actually grown more violent.” From Mexico to the Midwest the bodies are piling up. There are tens of thousands of direct victims of the drug cartels, people killed in the battle to control the drug trade or send those fighting it a message. Others are casualties of the cartels’ commodity.
Lisa Nauman remembers her big brother by placing a cross at the motel where he died. “He was a huge part of my life,” says Lisa Nauman. “I talked to him every day.”
Chad Nauman died after a night of partying at the Relax Motel in Urbandale. “Some reports say they were up all night partying. I’m not sure when my brother passed out. Apparently at 8 AM he was unresponsive.” He lay on the motel room floor for nearly 12 hours before anyone called 9-1-1.
The cause of death: A heroin overdose. “We didn’t expect it at all.” Lisa says her brother, known as the “rock n’ roll carpenter” around town, was an alcoholic and at times abused prescription drugs. Heroin wasn’t on her radar. “I didn’t realize that was a problem in Iowa. I mean, I knew it was around, but I didn’t realize the extent of it.”
Police investigating Chad Nauman’s death told Lisa the heroin coming from Mexico is 85 percent pure. The high grade heroin is called black tar and blamed for at least two dozen overdoses in Iowa in the last two years.
“We are definitely keeping an eye on that,” says Art Vogel, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Des Moines’ operations. Add it to the list. Law enforcement admits it’s hard to keep up with the cartels. The money made off the drug trade is matched only by the amount spent to stop it. “Enforcement is only one piece of the puzzle,” says Vogel. “It’s enforcement, education and it’s treatment.”
Each bust is a small victory, but the question remains. Are we winning the war on drugs? “Well, we’re not gonna lose,” says Vogel. “Because to lose, somebody has to give up and we’re not going to give up.”