Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officer with marijuana plants
Police officer seizing illegal marijuana plants
State troopers, sheriff's deputies, local police, and federal agents are working together to enforce state, local, and federal illicit substance laws, and, often in association with the National Guard, work to eradicate illegal marijuana grow operations and meth labs. Law enforcement also works in harmony with the federal government to restrict the flow of drugs into the United States across our borders.

Law enforcement officers across the country devote themselves to the complicated and dangerous business of busting up drug gangs, arresting individuals caught with illegal substances, eradicating hidden marijuana farms, disassembling hazardous meth labs, conducting narcotics sting operations and otherwise wreaking havoc on the activities of those who choose to break the law. Most of their job is not easy, and uncertainty is the only certainty they have, especially when dealing with the clandestine world of drug trafficking and substance abuse. With that, we dedicate this page to them.

Federal enforcement of illicit drug laws is primarily the responsibility of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, but other federal and state and local agencies across numerous jurisdictions have a hand.

Many law enforcement organizations in Washington coordinate with the Northwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking program (NWHIDTA) on drug enforcement, just as agencies across the nation coordinate with the HIDTAs covering their areas.

What are some of the specific issues law enforcement face in our region?


Officer discovers heroin hidden in the trunk of a car
The entry point for most heroin destined for Washington State is at the southwest border between California and Mexico, according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). Heroin seizures at this border have steadily increased since 2008. From there, heroin is pushed northbound along I-5.

The 2016 NDTA summary suggests that some of the increase in heroin's prevalence in western states is the result of the southwest border being used more often as a transit area for the drug intended to be sold in the eastern U.S. DEA agents in Seattle have noted that local heroin traffickers are working for the Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) or the Sinaloa Mexican cartels. The local traffickers operate in nearly all areas of the state.

Prescription opioids

Prescription drugs are commonly obtained through forged prescriptions, armed robberies, improper prescribing, illegal internet pharmacies, doctor-shopping, and stealing prescriptions from family and friends. Most of the prescription drugs being misused in the U.S. are manufactured in legal, DEA-licensed laboratories, and illicit laboratories are rare.

Fentanyl disguised as oxycodone found in Washington (source: PHSKC)
That said, an unlicensed, illicit laboratory manufacturing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 100 times more potent than morphine, was discovered at a home in Seattle, Washington in 2016, operated by two individuals that had university-level science backgrounds, so local illegal labs do exist.

The majority of illicit fentanyl comes into the U.S. via China or Mexico, and is used to cut other drugs like heroin, or pressed into pills that resemble oxycodone and are then sold on the street as such. In October 2017, Public Health Seattle and King County announced that Washington State Patrol Crime Lab tests revealed a batch of just such pills, which had been found on a person to died from what police believe to be a fentanyl overdose. This practice is highly dangerous and may be responsible for a number of overdoses, as a person who thinks they are buying oxycodone instead gets a pill that contains fentanyl. Unaware of the pill's true potency, someone can unknowingly take a fatal dose.


Mexican manufactured methamphetamine overwhelmingly sources Washington State and has done so for many years. Seizures of meth along the southwest border of the U.S. and Mexico increased 305% between 2010-2015. The 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) reports that 78% of law enforcement survey respondents listed methamphetamine availability as high in the Pacific Region. Local manufacturing of methamphetamine has significantly decreased since the 2006 passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA), which limited the amounts of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that could be purchased by an individual and also required purchases to provide photo ID. However, Mexican laboratories are able to produce huge amounts of methamphetamine, much of which is extremely pure (90%) and also inexpensive, ensuring it will likely continue to pose a serious threat to our region. The UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute published a report on Methamphetamine in Washington in 2018.


Police team securing seized cocaine found in a car.

Though the Seattle DEA reports cocaine availability as moderate in Washington, the drug is still considered a threat to the state because of its association with crime and the physical harm from its use.

In 2015, Columbia produced the largest single-year production of pure cocaine ever recorded, which law enforcement officials are concerned may also lead to a rise in use by Washington residents, as greater availability typically results in a price drop. Already, more than 90% of cocaine distributed around the U.S. in 2015 originated in Columbia, according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA). Cocaine smuggled into Washington often entered the country at the southwest border of the U.S. and Mexico, hidden in private and commercial vehicles traveling along I-5. Mexican drug traffickers dominate the cocaine trade in the U.S. and will likely continue to do so.

Recommended resources

2018 HIDTA Threat Assessment 2018 NW HIDTA Threat Assessment & Strategy (NW HIDTA, 2017)
Law enforcement survey responses, reports from local health departments, and drug seizure data to assess the drug threats in Washington, and crease strategies to address them. The 2018 report includes sections on opioids and overdose, diversion of prescription pain medications, methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and MDMA, 

DEA Slang TermsSlang Terms and Code Words: A Reference for Law Enforcement Personnel (DEA, 7/2018) new!
This reference guide provides new and updated information on slang terms and code words from a variety of law enforcement and open sources. I t is designed as a ready reference for law enforcement personnel who are confronted with hundreds of slang terms and code words used to identify a wide variety of controlled substances, designer drugs, synthetic compounds, measurements, locations, weapons, and other miscellaneous terms relevant to the drug trade.

NDAT 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment, 2018 (DEA, 10/2018)
Comprehensive strategic assessment of the threat posted to the U.S. by the trafficking and abuse of illicit and prescription drugs. The report combines federal, state, and local law enforcement reporting; public health data; news reports; and intelligence from other government agencies to provide a coordinated and balanced approach to determining which substances represent the greatest drug threat to the United States.

AG Report 2017Reducing the Supply of Illegal Opioids in Washington State (WA Attorney General and WA State Patrol, 11/2017)
Report from the Summit on Reducing the Supply of Illegal Opioids in Washington, which brought together law enforcement, public health experts, prosecutors, and medical professionals to develop a set of strategies and next steps to address the opioid crisis. Goals and recommendations include addressing gaps in public awareness, curtailing overprescribing, expanding access to alternative treatments to pain and to addiction treatment, better supporting law enforcement efforts to disrupt drug trafficking, and improving reporting and information sharing.