I-25 file

Traffic flows along Interstate 25 near the Interstate 80 interchange in south Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – With three interstates crossing the state, Wyoming is a transshipment hub for drugs.

This, combined with the state’s rural nature, makes it a perfect place to ship drugs, as well as hide drugs in its low-populated pockets.

But with a presence in more than 60 countries and about 400 task forces scattered across the 50 states, the Drug Enforcement Agency does make its presence known in Wyoming and northern Colorado.

Resident agent in charge David Tyree, of the Wyoming Field Office in Cheyenne, said the mission of the organization is to disrupt, dismantle and target drug trafficking organizations nationwide and abroad.

“This part of the country is both a transshipment point for narcotics that’s exploited because of its access to other parts of the country, and it’s also a destination for drug users,” Tyree said. “People who want to use narcotics can access them both in northern Colorado and Wyoming.”

The DEA is charged with enforcing the Controlled Substance Act, but the agency does this by doing more than just seizing drugs.

The act is the federal law that took effect in October 1970. It regulates drugs into five schedules, based on the drugs danger or risk to the public. For example, Schedule 1 drugs, such as heroin, have a high potential for abuse, versus a Schedule 4 drug, such as Xanax, that has a lower potential for abuse.

The DEA also attacks the financial infrastructure surrounding the drug trade, though not to say confiscating drugs doesn’t have value.

When drug dealing and trafficking is disincentivized, it usually stops, he said. When the financial gains from the illegal trade are seized, it also sends a message.

“Our job at DEA, we’re targeting the organizations,” Tyree said. “Most of the folks we come in contact with wouldn’t touch drugs. It’s a business for them. They see the devastation, and they make a profit from it, and that’s what drives me everyday.”

Tyree said he came from an addicted home and knows firsthand the devastation drugs can cause. In his eyes, he said he doesn’t see the drug crisis as an opioid crisis, he sees it as an addiction crisis.

“I don’t know anybody that ever thought, ‘I can’t wait to become a drug addict,’” he said.

Drug addiction also impacts other facets of life, even though he said it’s sometimes seen as a victimless crime.

A lot of property crime is often drug related, Cheyenne Police Department public information officer Kevin Malatesta said.

More often than not, when officers respond to a burglary or a stolen vehicle, they will find some evidence of drugs at the scene.

The police department has five officers deputized as DEA agents, and the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department has one person deputized by DEA. The partnership allows both of the local organizations to expand their reach beyond the jurisdictions of the city and county.

It would be extremely difficult to properly investigate drug crimes if officers were restrained to just their jurisdictions, Malatesta said. These officers are able to continue their investigations across state lines, both more thoroughly and sometimes from start to finish.

“It’s a great resource, and we all know drugs don’t originate here in the county. For the most part, they’re coming from outside of the country,” an undercover officer with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department said.

In recent years, he said he’s seen drug prices in the area decrease, making it easier to get them into people’s hands.

“We used to have people that couldn’t afford the large amounts of drugs, but now they’re so readily available and so cheap that we have people who wouldn’t normally be such a large dealer rise to the top,” the officer said.

Through this partnership, officers are also able to go to more training due to the resources they get from the federal government.

But this partnership with local law enforcement is only a fraction of the partnership Tyree envisions for the DEA.

“I feel like the community in Wyoming does a really great job embracing the idea of resilience,” he said.

The DEA hosts prescription drug take-back events twice a year for people to dispose of their unused prescription drugs so they don’t get into the wrong hands.

This fall, Tyree said, the DEA is participating in local schools’ Red Ribbon Week events – a program that helps educate youth about drug abuse.

He said he hopes the community knows it can contact the DEA. The agency has a form people can fill out and remain anonymous at www.dea.gov/submit-tip.

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.

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