Editorial: Cartel-linked drug arrests make difference

”El Chapo” was here.

Well, not in the flesh, but what was here in Columbus and Seymour, authorities say, was drug activity linked to the Sinaloa Cartel synonymous with Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. And cartel activity still may be here.

The drug trade — like all big businesses these days, legitimate or not — has gone global, so it should come as little surprise that our region has affiliates. Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers declared, “There are cartels presently here. … They’re organized, and there’s probably cartel (members) here right now that we don’t even know (about).”

Myers said this after suspects in Columbus and Seymour with alleged ties to the Sinaloa Cartel were arrested late last month in a federal operation that also relied on local law enforcement. The four suspects arrested in our area on federal charges were among 18 people, most of them in Indianapolis, charged with conspiracy to deal meth and other drugs and/or money laundering.

El Chapo is serving a life sentence in Colorado’s Supermax federal prison now, a fitting address for a murderous mobster legendary for escaping. Now, a few of his cartel’s alleged confederates accused of doing cartel business around here also will be on ice awaiting trial. They face sentences that could exceed 20 years in prison if convicted.

Law enforcement is locked in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with traffickers. The dealers know there is a demand, so even after the recent busts, someone else will pop up to furnish the supply. These are people with a thirst for money or power and no regard for the law, let alone the misery their illicit trade inflicts.

It may seem desperate, but the efforts of law enforcement do make a life-and-death difference. Every major bust disrupts the supply, at least for the moment. And that saves lives. For the moment.

So we praise the aggressive enforcement by federal law enforcement in Indiana, which, in partnership with local law enforcement in Bartholomew and Jackson counties, rooted out a significant drug supply. Zachary A. Myers, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, and Michael Gannon, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Indianapolis Field Office, lauded the assistance of local law enforcement and prosecutors in Bartholomew and Jackson counties.

Authorities said the busts late last month took about 82 pounds of methamphetamine, 1,750 fentanyl pills, 35 grams of fentanyl, one kilogram of cocaine and more off the street.

That’s a big disruption. As The Republic’s Andy East reported, it came a little more than a year after Operation Columbus Day, believed to be the largest multi-agency operation ever in Bartholomew County, led to 60 arrests.

For all the statistics about arrests and quantities of drugs seized, we should never forget the human cost of the drug scourge. As East reported, more than 100 have died of drug overdoses since 2019 in Bartholomew County. Coroner Clayton Nolting a few days before the most recent bust warned overdose deaths were accelerating due to the proliferation of fentanyl. He warned the county was on pace for 50 overdose deaths this year.

In the final analysis, drug addiction is personal, but drug addiction has never been deadlier. We hope those dealing with addiction seek treatment. Help is available, and you or someone you know who needs help can get started by calling 800-662-4357.