HIDTA Press Releases
  Posted on: Tuesday, June 5, 2018
GBI: Meth-related deaths up 40 percent in 1 year; Local drug agencies: ‘If you see something, say something’
By Thomas Hartwell thartwell@cherokeetribune.com

CANTON – The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reported that methamphetamine-related deaths in the state rose 40 percent from 2016 to 2017 – an increase of about 100 deaths. Cherokee County drug agency officials say meth has been the most commonly used drug in the region for decades.

“We were looking at it and seeing that, ‘Wow, this is a significant percentage increase year over year from year 2017 compared to 2016,'” said Bahan Rich, a spokesman for the state bureau of investigation.

Rich said Tuesday that the GBI serves as the medical examiner for 153 of the state’s 159 counties, and statistics for the remaining examiner offices were included in the reporting.

He said statistics from 2016-2017 were able to be finalized only recently because of an increase in fentanyl and other hard-to-identify drug use as well as months-long toxicology reporting processes.

The reason for the increase in meth-related deaths in the state can only be speculated at this point, Rich said, but it seems to follow observable trends, like availability of the drug and a drop in price.

“It’s still a prevalent drug out there. The ratio… of meth cases to opioid cases is a 2-to-1 ratio,” he said. “We see twice the number of meth cases that are submitted to us for testing as we do opioid cases.” The ratio Rich referenced refers to all GBI drug testing, not drug-related deaths.

Rich said the street price of an ounce of methamphetamine has recently dropped to about $300. Comparable to heroin’s $2,200-per-ounce price tag, that’s dirt cheap, he said.

There is not a verifiable location where problems with methamphetamine are concentrated in the state, as number of meth cases tends to follow proportionate population trends, Rich said. However, he said, just like any business, traffickers are attracted to the Atlanta area with its highways and international airport for ease of distribution.

“We attribute that to the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for shipping it into the United States and then, in large part, distributing it throughout the state and throughout the country,” he said.

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Officials from the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad echoed Rich’s comments at the local level in interviews on Tuesday.

“Meth is the No. 1 drug in Cherokee County as far as volume. It has been for a number of years,” CMANS Commander Phil Price said.

Price said the widespread use of the potent D-methamphetamine that is found on the streets today started in the 1980s and has increased since then. According to drug seizure data published on the CMANS website, Cherokee seems to follow statewide trends.

The online data shows a large spike in seizures in 2016. In 2015, the narcotics squad seized $304,986-worth of meth. That number increased to $863, 273 the next year.

Price said the shocking increase was due in part to one particularly large seizure from a smuggling group with a Cherokee County route, however, in 2017, seizure amounts still totaled $520, 502.93. Seizures have increased from just $834 since 2008.

Price said the increase in the drug’s use can be connected to the combination of price and effects on its user.

“In the drug arena, it’s a very attractive drug,” he said. “People tend to be attracted to it because it gives you a good feeling for a long time and it’s cheap.”

Price and Deputy Commander Walter Jones agreed that though the drug has been in the county and north Georgia “forever,” it spread throughout the state rapidly when Mexican drug cartels took over distribution. And what used to be a young adult male’s drug is now used and sold widely across the demographics.

“When I started dealing with meth on a day-to-day basis (in the mid-90s), it was a redneck drug – 18 to 25-year-old white males – that was the profile,” Price said. “We see now every demographic you can think of using meth.”

Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Tuesday that regardless of trends, the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office, CMANS and municipal police forces remain committed to working together to lessen the impact of all drug activity on the community, no matter the type.

Price said while meth’s ease of access makes it difficult to reduce by any great amount, the best way for the narcotics agency and local law enforcement to work to curb drug activity in the community is by tips from the public and other law enforcement agencies.

“The only thing you really can do is try to pay attention to the tips from citizens and from other law enforcement officers,” he said. “That’s really the most effective way. That and doing thorough interviews of everyone we arrest.”

To submit an anonymous tip, call (770) 345-7920, or use the cyber tip link.

GBI data provided to the Tribune shows that total drug-related deaths in the state increased from 1,299 to 1,322 from 2016 to 2017. Cherokee County’s drug-related deaths totaled 43 of 2017’s 1,322 deaths, or 3 percent of the total.

In 2016, opioids accounted for 940 of state deaths, while non-opioids resulted in 343 deaths. In 2017, opioids accounted for 935 deaths to non-opioids’ 391. There were 16 deaths caused by “unknown” drugs in 2016 and six in 2017. In both 2016 and 2017, methamphetamine was listed as the No. 1 killer on the GBI’s list of top 10 deaths by drug.

According to the GBI, the state has seen 107 drug-related deaths so far this year, seven of which were in Cherokee. Meth still tops the 2018 list with 29 deaths.

To view full GBI statistics by drug and demographic, click here. To view the full CMANS seizure statistics, visit www.cmans.org.


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