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
“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
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
“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.