CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (CBS SF) — If you think of Contra Costa County as a peaceful, beautiful suburbia, maybe these recent headlines would surprise you.

Like a dad finding a bag of meth while going through his 8-year-old daughter’s Halloween candy. Or a huge meth bust connected to a Mexican drug cartel.

The bust, dubbed “Operation Road Trip,” pulled an estimated $18 million of drugs off the streets. The task force WestNET, who worked on the drug bust for six years, say the drugs started south of the border from the infamous Sinaloa cartel.

Investigators say the county acted as a hub — a pit stop for dealers before trafficking elsewhere. This news doesn’t come as a surprise to Judith Cohen, an epidemiologist at the East Bay Community Recovery Project.

“There is a methamphetamine problem in Contra Costa County,” Cohen said, adding that the drug is in high demand in the county’s suburban and rural areas.

She points out Contra Costa’s network of freeways fits into the drug traffickers’ M.O.

“That’s their preferred way of operating,” Cohen said, “to keep a low profile and stay with routes that do not have a large police presence.”

Cohen says most drugs on the route are headed out of the state to the Pacific Northwest and Canada. But for what stays here, she’s seen the pain it brings.

“They had miserable jobs if they had any, the women had histories of abuse,” Cohen said. “Methamphetamine makes people violent.”

Cohen says meth spread through family and social networks, and that helps the problem stay under the radar, too.

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