JEROME -- Experts say the war on drugs here in Idaho is always changing; what drugs are being used, how they're being used, and how they're getting into the state.
Those on the front lines say it means that they always have to stay on the forefront of technology and tactics to fight drugs in Idaho. However, one of their best tools is also one of the oldest.
Idaho is seeing a lot more of it, more of it in our small towns, more of it in our big cities and especially a lot more of it on our roads. Its drug trafficking.
"It's a problem that affects all parts of the state," said Wendy Olson.
Olson is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho. She prosecutes, not small-time dealers, but drug traffickers, people who are part of huge criminal organizations, called cartels, and she's been very busy. "Over the last three years, there have been, into the first month of this year, close to 300 defendants sentenced in federal court on methamphetamine trafficking charges alone."
That's a significant increase, and the latest data from Idaho State Police shows the number of arrests where drugs are seized are way up. ISP also says the amount of marijuana alone they've seized, has tripled over five years.
"Methamphetamine, in particular, destroys lives. It creates all sorts of problems for families," says Olson.
She also says there's been a spike in meth trafficking, partly because newer laws have made it tougher to cook at home. "What's replaced that is methamphetamine trafficking from Mexico. A lot of that is tied eventually to drug cartels."
Also, as neighboring states relax marijuana laws, it can now be grown legally out of state, and driven in to Idaho, where it fetches a higher price. That means Idaho's highways are some of the front lines for Idaho's war on drugs, and ISP Senior Trooper Steve Otto is one of those people on the front lines.
We caught up with Otto in his car in a median on Interstate 84, looking for cars that might be trafficking drugs. "It can be any car. It's just like fishing, it's me versus them, and I like to win."
However, he's not alone. Besides his fellow officers and undercover agents working in the dark corners of Idaho's drug underworld, he also has one of the most sophisticated and effective pieces of drug-finding equipment available, his drug dog, Bingo.
"I love him to death. He's with me 24/7. He comes home with me," says Otto. "He's definitely not a pet. In fact, my own family doesn't pet Bingo. The only joy he gets is from finding that odor of drugs."
And, he's great at that. At a demonstration, Otto hid some marijuana on a car, and Bingo was able to find it within seconds.
But, it's not just marijuana. Thanks to months of intensive training with Otto and continued weekly training, where drug smells are imprinted on Bingo, he can smell any type of drug.
Bingo is so effective; he can even smell when drugs used to be in a vehicle. So, he can also find drug money, like when ISP pulled $185,000 out of a truck's rear differential.
Otto says Bingo is also a deterrent, which means that when traffickers see him, they just hand over the drugs, instead of having him find them.
But right now, the only K-9 unit ISP has for the entire state is Otto and Bingo. They work out of Jerome, but travel all over to help officers detect drugs. That will change soon, though. Otto and Bingo started as a pilot program two years ago, and have been so effective, and with the need to stop trafficking is great, that three new drug dogs are training with three ISP officers right now in Utah, and are scheduled to hit the streets in March.
"I can't wait for them to certify," said Otto. "It is a high demand tool that we use."
Of course, it would be a lot easier for Bingo, Otto and Olson to stop drug traffickers, if Idahoans would stop buying what they're selling.
"It's something we all have to work on as a community to reduce the demand for," said Olson.
However, until that demand goes away, ISP and all the state's law enforcement will have to keep searching and keep working to stop the flow of drugs into Idaho.