NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - "They don't care who dies. There are thousands and thousands of people dying. I mean, we can fill the Superdome in the last two years of people who have died of heroin and opioid overdoses," said Tyrone Tedesco of the DEA.
With heroin flowing across the U.S. border every day, members of the Drug Enforcement Agency say it's a constant battle in the war against the killer drug.
"You're just trying to link that chain, and we can take it as far as we need to," Tedesco said.
Tedesco, a DEA Ffeld intelligence manager, said attacking the problem is about finding those responsible for supplying the heroin that hits the streets.
"It's coming across the Southwest boarder, and it's coming in through various Mexican cartels that are now controlling the importation into the United States," he said.
Tedesco said agents track different Mexican cartels to different regions around the U.S. He said New Orleans is unique.
"We can trace supplies to the various cartels, but we don't really see that they have a command and control structure here," he said.
He said in New Orleans, domestic cartels drive the heroin trade.
"These are people inside the country. They are involved and work together with the narcotic traffickers. They are the go-between. They go to the Southwest border and broker the deals that are coming across. It's all a business," Tedesco said.
It's a dangerous business that's almost always filled with extreme violence, making it very difficult for agents to infiltrate and gain intelligence.
"These are drug trafficking organizations. They're ruthless, and they would think nothing of taking a life, kidnapping and eliminating your whole family on just the suspicion that you did something against them," Tedesco said.
While it's rare, high-level members of the cartels do travel to the New Orleans area. Last week, Sergio Grimaldo pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in Houma. Tedesco said agents uncovered Grimaldo's key role as a Los Zetas cartel cell leader.
"He was associated with Los Zetas, and we have had situations here where we do actually find someone who is a direct link to cartels. They will go through an area, if they're looking to expand their market, and they're basically here to set up shop," Tedesco said.
Los Zetas is considered one of the most notorious of the Mexican cartels. Sergio's brother, Efrain Grimaldo, was sentenced to 33 years in New Orleans Federal Court last year. An investigation revealed that the brothers were directly supplying drugs to a known violent street gang known as the UBB.
Agents say their investigations normally start with street dealers and they try to make connections to the higher-ups.
"Using all our technology, we work with people who give us information, and from there, we're just linking the puzzle. We're using technology and human intelligence that is really critical for the drug war," Tedesco said.
Even with the fight to take as many dealers off the street as possible, Tedesco said the country's heroin epidemic is also a health crisis.
Law enforcement agencies like the DEA are now working to not only make arrests but to educate the public about the deadly drug.