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A rare look inside the Tucson DEA drug vault

Posted: 2:40 PM, Jun 21, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-21 21:16:40-04
Tucson DEA drug vault

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Drug Enforcement Agency says Tucson has become a hub for Mexican drug cartels bringing in deadly drugs before sending them across the country.

Local DEA officials are charged with trying to intercept those illegal drugs.

KGUN 9 was recently given an exclusive tour of the DEA's Tucson drug vault near the airport. We found a nearly empty storage warehouse.

"This is an area we actually store all the illicit drugs," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Polo Ruiz. "It's pretty empty. Really empty. At one time, it was filled to the gills, from the bottom to the top, of marijuana. Several years going back, it was full. But now, because of the big push and consumption of and trafficking of fentanyl along with methamphetamine, it's smaller. It's a lot easier to transport."

While the Tucson District Drug Vault sits mostly empty these days, local DEA agents are having success at stopping drugs from moving through the Tucson area on their way north.

"This is a very recent seizure," explained Ruiz. "This occurred within the last week. You're looking at over approximately 350,000 pills."

350,000 fentanyl pills seized by Tucson DEA

Those 350,000 potentially deadly fentanyl pills are made to look like Oxycodone, complete with an M 30 stamp.

The pills are manufactured in Mexico, using pill presses like the ones recently seized by the DEA.

Seized fentanyl pills

"We have found that two out of five pills that we seize are having the lethal dose," Ruiz said.

Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel controls the drugs flowing into Southern Arizona, according to Ruiz.

That includes methamphetamine, the second most popular illegal drug coming across the border.

A large quantity of meth, about 40 pounds worth, was also recently seized by Tucson DEA.

"You can have over a million doses here, at least," said Ruiz.

With the drug trafficking comes guns and criminals.

DEA wanted posters

And if you think the Sinaola Cartel is only operating in Mexico, you'd be wrong.

The DEA recently found a social media post showing members of that cartel driving through Phoenix showing off a 50 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

"It's telling us in the community, but also law enforcement, these folks- they're brazen," warned Ruiz.

Ruiz is proud of the work his agents are doing, despite the dangers. They are having success.

The DEA does not keep the fentanyl or meth very long. They send it to a lab for analysis to check the lethality. It is then incinerated.

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Pat Parris is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. He is a graduate of Sabino High School where he was the 1982 high school state track champion in the 800 meters. While in high school and college, he worked part-time in the KGUN 9 newsroom. Share your story ideas and important issues with Pat by emailing pat.parris@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.