An FBI arrest in northern California is continuing to make heroin harder to come by in Southern Oregon, local narcotics officers say.
Some addicts in Southern Oregon are paying higher prices for a dwindling supply of heroin, while others are trying to get by on an increasingly restricted supply of opiate painkillers in the three weeks since a California man described by the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force as a “major drug distributor” was arrested in Yreka, California.
The Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force was involved in the FBI arrest and two-year investigation leading up to Parker’s arrest, according to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, who headed the task force during the investigation.
“The word is a lot of people are sick right now because they’re just not able to get their heroin,” Budreau said.
The amount of heroin seized by MADGE this year — 2,856 grams — is nearly 12 percent more than the 2,551 grams seized during the same year-to-date period last year and nearly a third more than the 2,137 grams seized at this point in 2016.
Assuming a typical 10 doses per gram of heroin, seizing hundreds of grams of the illicit drug translates to thousands of doses off the streets.
“That’s certainly our goal, to disrupt the supply chain of drugs into the valley,” Budreau said. “For how long we don’t know.”
Narcotics officers are watching as different players attempt to meet the pent-up demand for the opiate drug, citing as an example the July 6 arrest of Andrew Lee Tunnell and Amanda Lee Tunnell, who face felony heroin-delivery conspiracy and money laundering charges following their arrest in Ashland. Detectives said they also found close to $20,000 cash in a backpack in that arrest.
“We have folks that are trying to fill that void,” Budreau said, adding that the dealers’ level of success “seems to be questionable.”
MADGE detectives had information that Andrew Tunnell had headed to California to purchase heroin when they stopped him on his way back the afternoon of July 6 near Tolman Creek Road and Siskiyou Boulevard. Detectives allegedly found the cash, user amounts of opiate pills and a bottle of methadone for which neither had a prescription, along with a revolver Tunnell was not allowed to have as a California felon.
“Our theory was he went down to purchase drugs and it fell through,” Budreau said.
As of Saturday afternoon, Tunnell remained lodged in the Jackson County Jail without bail, held on pending felony charges including conspiring to deliver heroin and money laundering, along with a California fugitive warrant.
Detectives have been monitoring Andrew Tunnell since Feb. 1, Budreau said, following a traffic stop on Interstate 5 that police said yielded 7 grams of heroin, another 150 grams of heroin in packaging and $3,250 cash. No charges were ever filed in that case, court records show, but Budreau said detectives already had a search warrant signed when they stopped Tunnell in Ashland earlier this month.
Budreau said the drop in available heroin stems from the capture of Gharrett Paul Parker, 33, who was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on drug conspiracy charges following his June 22 arrest at a Yreka motel, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Medford. Parker was arrested during an FBI raid, with which MADGE assisted following a two-year inter-agency investigation, according to Budreau and earlier news reports.
Parker allegedly orchestrated different players to collect money totaling $5,500 before delivering the drugs at various locations in Siskiyou County, California, according to court documents filed in the cases of Parker and two co-suspects.
“He was a hard one to touch,” Budreau said. “He had layered himself so high.”
Parker and co-suspect Kesheion Lamar Coilton, 22, remain lodged in the Jackson County Jail on federal charges alleging they conspired to deliver more than 100 grams of heroin and possessed heroin with intent to distribute. The pair are slated to be arraigned in Medford on Monday.
Parker also faces Jackson County charges alleging heroin delivery and possession charges. Parker has a Sacramento address listed in Jackson County court records; however, mail to that address came back as undeliverable, according to a filing earlier this month.