Tide Theft Tied to Drug Trade?

It's being called a "grime wave," a rash of thefts targeting Tide laundry detergent.

Near Mineapolis, cameras caught 53-year-old Patrick Costanzo stealing more than $25,000  worth of the product over the course of 15 months.

"It's like he put the pieces in there like Tetris pieces. He maximized that cart, there's no wasted space," said investigator Sean Melville of the West St. Paul police.

Costanzo would load up his cart and push right past workers. He'd also take paper towels, soda and toilet paper.

"There's no way he can be using," said Melville. "I hope for his own sake he's not using that much toilet paper everyday."

Authorities finally put an end to the sudsy spree, but with a retail price from $10 to $20 this household laundry staple has become a kind of currency of the streets. It can sell on the black market for half the price and with no serial number it's impossible to track.

"Tide is highly recognizable, it's very difficult to trace and it's easily resold," said Brad Garrett, former FBI special agent.

According to law enforcement officials, the Procter & Gamble clothes cleaner has become part of the dirty drug trade. A recent drug sting in Maryland turned up more Tide than cocaine and according to police it was not just one guy, but an organization that would hit four to five stores a day.

"It may be more financially viable for the drug dealer to exchange Tide for drugs and then resell the Tide," Garrett told ABC News.

Using video surveillance and undercover officers, police in Prince George's County, Md., arrested 18 people after being contacted by a Safeway about thefts.

CVS stores have even put Tide on lockdown, saying drug users have targeted Tide in much the same way they have targeted flu medications.

Image Credit: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg/Getty Images

ABC News' Rob Nelson contributed to this report.