Despite the increase in methamphetamine awareness projects such as the Georgia Meth Project, the presence and use of methamphetamine still continues to be a problem in the region. The Georgia Meth Project estimates that meth abuse costs the state $1.3 billion annually.
In 2013, the LaGrange Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit reported 93 separate cases. The number of arrests is even higher. Within each of those 93 cases, each case could have several arrests Sgt. Mark Cavender said.
He estimated that 60-80 percent of the SIU efforts go towards methamphetamine cases.
“It’s daily. Nearly everyday that we work, there is either a meth complaint, meth arrest or an informant who has given intel on someone selling meth,” he said.
Troup County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Stewart Smith reported 74 separate methamphetamine cases were handled by the sheriff’s narcotics unit in 2013. As of March 2014, Stewart said narcotics officers handled 40 methamphetamine cases. These figures do not reflect the patrol unit’s numbers.
Cavender said, along with prescription drugs, methamphetamine is the most prevalent drug in the area. Sgt. Nathan Taylor, narcotics investigator with the TCSO, also reported that meth has the largest presence in the rural county.
Taylor also added that meth contributes to 90 percent of the county’s property crimes such as buglaries and theft.
Like most states in the southeastern region, the methamphetamine supply is coming from Mexico. Cavender said Atlanta is a large hub for distribution of methamphetamine from Mexico and said much of the supply in LaGrange is coming from there.
Since there is little “cooking” of meth here, Cavender said they have not seen any explosions or fires as a result of meth labs. Though he said it isn’t uncommon to find “shake and bake” labs called “brains” where users create meth in 2-liter or Gatorade-size bottles.
Several campaigns across the nation have released “faces of meth” articles showing the drastic, almost unrecognizable, changes in users in just a few years as a way to deter meth addiction.
Cavender attributes these changes to the man-made and harsh chemicals that are in methamphetamine. Some of these chemicals can come from battery acid, drain cleaner or antifreeze.
As these chemicals leave the body they create sores called “crank bugs” which users itch and pick at. Tooth decay, loss of appetite and lack of sleep add to this to cause a specific appearance which is unique to meth users.
Cavender said one of the biggest challenges of methamphetamine is the nature of the drug itself. Dealing with users can be difficult because of their mannerisms Cavender said. Often times, users are extremely paranoid and fidgety. He compared it to dealing with someone with a severe case of ADD or ADHD.
Taylor said methamphetamine deteriorates the body and mind.
“When they get on meth they lose their mind and they hallucinate. They may not have any mental illness but when they get on it, they are like a bipolar schizophrenic,” Taylor said.
Cavender said in his experience dealing with meth users, they are all in denial about the severity of their addiction. He told a story about a young girl he spoke with during a bust who said she could quit whenever she wanted.
“If you could quit smoking meth anytime you wanted to, you wouldn’t be sitting here today in a hotel with seven other people doing God knows what to get methamphetamine at 17 years old,” Cavender told her.
While meth has tragic consequences for all users, the lengths at which female users will go to for a fix is almost comparable to sex slavery. Cavender said it is not uncommon to find one female in a hotel room with several men so they can score more drugs.
While methamphetamine used to be and still is considered to be discriminate to the white community, Cavender said those barriers have been broken down.
“You see it among the white community, black community, rich community, poor community,” he said. “It’s crossed all socioeconomic barriers.”
However, Taylor said out in the rural county areas, its still predominate among white users.
Age barriers have also been crossed in recent years as well. Cavender said he sees more and more teenagers getting hooked on meth.
According to Troup County’s student health survey for the 2012-2013, the average age a meth user first tries the drug is approximately 11 years old. When asked if they perceived methamphetamine as an easily available drug, 650 students either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed.
Taylor said though the average is roughly 20-40 years of age, it varies.
“I’ve talk to 12 years olds who have used meth,” he said. “I’ve arrested retired couples that you would never expect.” He added that he is currently dealing with a 15 year old hooked on the drug.
A new up-and-coming drug called “Molly” hasn’t made its way to Troup County yet, though the meth-based drug is popping up in circles around the nation. This drug has been specifically targeted to teenagers.
Taylor said Molly is the purest form of MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy, and though it doesn’t affect people the same way as methamphetamine, it does contain meth.
While research suggests that recovery for meth addicts is nearly impossible, Kelly Veal, treatment coordinator for the Troup Couny Felony Drug Court, disagrees and said drug court outcomes prove otherwise.
According to Veal, the program graduation rate for meth addicts is nearly 80 percent. She also said when compared to eight other programs, drug courts quadrupled the length of abstinence from meth. Furthermore, drug court reduced methamphetamine use by more than 50 percent compared to outpatient treatment alone.
This information was gathered from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
“The Troup County felony drug court has had success with helping people recover. They have done a very good job,” Taylor said.
He added however, that it takes a desire to change from the user and longtime users have a more difficult time.
“I’m not going to say it’s impossible because I’ve seen people get off of it and stay clean for long periods of time, but it is a very crippling drug because it just takes a hold of everything. Nothing matters anymore,” Cavender said. “I’ve talked to mothers who prior to being strung out on methamphetamine were great mothers, but once they became addicted to meth, it had such a powerful grip on their reality that they cared more about getting the drugs than taking care of their family.”
Taylor said they have had success getting meth dealers off the streets though it remains a constant battle.
“We just have to remain vigilant and hopefully the word will get out in Troup County that meth is not tolerated,” Taylor said.