Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement officers assisted Friday in what they are calling the largest heroin seizure ever in Southern Oregon.
MADGE assisted Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who learned that two suspects were carrying heroin on a commercial bus heading through Jackson County.
Officers entered the bus bound for Vancouver, Wash., and arrested two California residents and seized two large bags packed with 47 pounds of heroin, worth approximately $1 million.
"It is safe to say this is the most heroin seized in Southern Oregon at one time," MADGE Lt. Brett Johnson said.
The heroin was wrapped tightly in plastic and bundled in 20 individual packages. Each package weighed about 1 kilogram.
Johnson said the street value of the heroin could have blossomed to $2.5 million once it was broken down into smaller quantities and sold.
"Usually 1 pound of heroin is considered a large bust for us," Johnson said. "Forty-seven pounds is unheard of around here."
The officers arrested Antonio Contreras, 21, of Mira Loma, Calif., and Ranee Duarte, 18, of Santa Ana, Calif. They were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin and possession of heroin.
Contreras was lodged in the Jackson County Jail on a bail of $525,000, while Duarte was cited and released on her own recognizance.
Johnson did not speculate on how the pair came to possess such a large quantity of heroin.
"They did take a big risk by packing it all together and driving through," Johnson said.
Johnson said the pair probably weren't going to distribute the heroin in Jackson County.
"They were passing through on their way to the major markets up north," he said.
However, the heroin most likely would have trickled down here to feed Southern Oregon's growing appetite for black tar heroin, Johnson said.
"Over the past two years we have seen a significant increase in heroin on the street," Johnson said. "It is right up there with meth now as an issue."
The black tar variety of heroin is usually injected, but also can be smoked.
Johnson said MADGE has previously worked cases in which drugs were transported on commercial buses or other public transit.
"Drugs are brought to the area in every way, though," Johnson said. "Sometimes it's on buses, sometimes in rented cars and other times in personal cars. They constantly change their tactics and we change with them."
Johnson said the heroin will be stored in a highly secure place before the trial. After the case is concluded, the heroin will be destroyed.
MADGE is an interagency drug and gang task force that includes personnel from the Medford Police Department, Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Oregon State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jackson County Community Justice and the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471, or email email@example.com.