New efforts on the federal level aim to put a dent in a "staggering" uptick in the usage of and cases involving methamphetamine in the Garden State.

Operation Crystal Shield, announced by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is directing resources to eight meth "transportation hubs" in the country where the drug is trafficked in bulk and then distributed across the country, including the Northeast.

Virtually all meth sold and used in the U.S. comes through major ports of entry along the Southwest border, according to the DEA. The operation will concentrate on "hubs" in Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and St. Louis — field divisions in these areas accounted for more than 75% of meth seized in the U.S. last year, the DEA says.

"New Jersey is getting inundated with meth from those hubs," said Susan Gibson, special agent in charge of the DEA's New Jersey Division. "The DEA New Jersey Division alone seized 434 kg, or 957 pounds, of methamphetamine since 2017. That's a staggering number."

Cases involving the highly addictive drug jumped 512% between 2015 and 2019 for law enforcement in New Jersey, Gibson said. Over that time, the total number of lab submissions increased 395%.

New Jersey has not historically been a hot spot for methamphetamine, Gibson said.

With the announcement of the operation, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon cited a 22 percent increase in methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nationwide.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations are producing the drug in large quantities, with a purity level as a high as 95 to 100%, the DEA said.

Meth is often found in "poly-drug" loads, alongside cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, according to the DEA. Once passed into the U.S., it's transported to neighborhoods by tractor trailers and personal vehicles.

"We want to hit them when they get in the country," Gibson said. "By destroying those networks ... we're then stemming the flow of methamphetamine."

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