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Alabama is known as the "Yellowhammer state," named after its beautiful golden-hued state bird, but it's also known as the "Heart of Dixie." It's famous for its part in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, when Alabama was the site of such landmark civil-rights actions as the bus boycott in Montgomery (1955-56) and the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery (1965). But as rich and storied a history as the great state of Alabama has, a dark cloud looms large on the horizon, threatening its future.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For Alabama—which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the U.S. with 16.9% of its residents live below the federal poverty threshold - a noticeably larger percentage than the national average of 13.4%. From 2006 through 2014 there were 5,128 deaths from overdoses in Alabama and the state's death rate from substance abuse averaged out to 14.9 per 100,000 people.
Given Alabama's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder. Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Alabama like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Alabama, nearly half of the 775 reported drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved opioids--a total of 381 fatalities (and a rate of 8.3.) Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's an addiction that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Alabama providers wrote 97.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people! This was the highest prescribing rate in the country and almost twice as much as the average U.S. rate of 51.4.
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) Between 2013 and 2014, heroin deaths in Alabama increased dramatically from 40 deaths to 122.
The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents. Between 2012 and 2017, the greatest increase in opioid deaths in Alabama occurred among cases involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl), with a rise from 16 deaths to 198.
A recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Alabamans, and the numbers are concerning:
Alcohol - 22.93% of Alabama adults report binge-drinking alcohol.
Marijuana - 5.2% of Alabama residents report using marijuana at least once.
Cocaine / Crack - 1.30% of Alabama adults report having used cocaine at least once.
Heroin - .35% of adults in Alabama report they've used heroin at least once.
Prescription Painkillers / Opioids - 5% of Alabama young people (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor.
The good news for Alabama residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Yellowhammer State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Alabama State Facts
Alabama Population: 4,443,866
Law Enforcement Officers in Alabama: 11,378
Alabama Prison Population: 37,300
Alabama Probation Population: 39,697
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 21
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Alabama
Cocaine: 220.7 kgs.
Heroin: 2.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 3.8 kgs.
Marijuana: 1,075.5 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 296 (DEA, state, and local)
Alabama Drug Situation: The drug threat in Alabama consists of the widespread availability and abuse of illegal drugs arriving from outside the state, along with its homegrown marijuana production and the increasing danger of local manufacturing of methamphetamine and designer drugs. Conventional drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana are the majority of illicit drugs arriving in and shipped through Alabama. Colombian, Mexican, and Caribbean drug trafficking organizations (drug trafficking organizations), regional drug trafficking organizations, as well as local drug trafficking organizations and (casual or one-time traffickers) are responsible for the transportation of these drugs. Additionally, Mexican, Caribbean and regional drug trafficking organizations have extensive distribution networks within the State of Alabama. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs are also supplying methamphetamine on a very limited basis through their own distribution network within the state of Alabama. Additionally, local production of methamphetamine is on the rise in Alabama.
Cocaine in Alabama: Although most drug seizures and drug-related arrests in Alabama are attributed to marijuana, cocaine hydrochloride and crack cocaine continue to be a huge drug threat in Alabama. The addictive nature of cocaine destroys otherwise productive lives and the violence associated with cocaine distribution cripples many of Alabama's lower income neighborhoods. Although cocaine use has no ethnic or geographical boundaries in Alabama, cocaine street-level distribution is dominated by the African American culture. A large percentage of Alabama's cocaine is supplied by Mexican sources in California, Arizona, and Texas, however Alabama's proximity to Atlanta and Miami also poses a significant threat.
Heroin in Alabama: The heroin threat has not been a significant factor in Alabama in past years, however intelligence indicates that as of recently the presence of heroin is on the rise in Alabama. Most of the heroin in Alabama is transported from Jamaica; however, a recent sample from a local Alabama heroin seizure indicated the origination of the drug was New York. Of the heroin found in Alabama, the drug is not only becoming available in a purer form, but it is also becoming more affordable.
Methamphetamine in Alabama: Methamphetamine has become the biggest drug threat in Alabama. Although marijuana continues to be the number one drug of choice in Alabama, methamphetamine has surpassed cocaine in abuse across the state. An intelligence and enforcement effort has been initiated in Alabama to identify major drug trafficking organizations involved in methamphetamine importation, manufacture, and distribution. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of clandestine meth labs discovered in Jackson, Marshall, Etowah, Madison, Houston, Baldwin, DeKalb, and Walker counties. Methamphetamine labs are most commonly found in isolated, rural communities. Seizures and intelligence data indicate that the bulk of methamphetamine distribution in Alabama is dominated by drug trafficking organizations supplied by sources in Mexico with transportation routes based in California, Arizona, and Texas. These Mexican drug trafficking organizations utilize tractor-trailer trucks, rented or personal vehicles, airlines, and U.S. Postal Service or commercial carriers to transport methamphetamine to Alabama. Street level methamphetamine distribution and use is divided into both the Hispanic and Caucasian cultures. The gaining popularity of methamphetamine abuse in small towns and communities in Alabama is directly responsible for the increase in thefts, violent assaults, and burglaries. EPIC statistics reported 289 laboratories seized in 2003 compared to 257 laboratories in 2002, indicating illicit methamphetamine manufacturing is on the rise in Alabama.
Club Drugs in Alabama: “Club Drug” abuse and distribution among young people in Alabama is on the rise. Increases in arrests, overdoses and seizures of these designer drugs have been reported in Alabama and indicate a trend toward increased availability and trafficking of Ecstasy, LSD, and Ketamine. MDMA, LSD, GHB, and Ketamine are readily available throughout Alabama and more commonly found on college campuses and at venues. GHB and MDMA have emerged as the club drugs of choice in Alabama and the end-users are mostly young Caucasians at all economic levels but the majority of club drug users are particularly college students and rave participants. Alabama’s stateside sources of supply are Miami, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. The use and distribution of Ecstasy has continued to increase in Alabama. Intelligence reports indicate the sources of supply for Ecstasy in Alabama include Miami, Florida; Germany; Auburn, Alabama; and Nashville, Tennessee with most coming from Atlanta, Georgia. While Ecstasy is still the number one "club" drug of choice, GHB and the analogs are growing. GHB has become a significant threat in Alabama. Investigations have revealed solvents that contain GHB analogs are being obtained from the Internet. GHB overdoses have been reported in the Ozark/Dothan, Birmingham, Auburn, Mobile, Huntsville, and Decatur areas of Alabama. LSD, which can be found in many forms, has not seen a large increase of abuse in Alabama over the past several years.
Marijuana in Alabama: Marijuana has always had a strong presence in Alabama. However, in the past few years, marijuana seizure size load amounts have increased significantly. Only a few years ago, a seizure of 10 pounds of marijuana was fairly rare in Alabama, and was considered a rather significant seizure, however, today it is not uncommon for Huntsville to seize loads of 50 to 100 pounds. The overall production of marijuana within Alabama continues to decline while the transportation into the state via the highway system is on the increase. The main sources of marijuana coming into Alabama continues to be from Mexico with connections to South America as well as through port cities of Florida and the Port of Mobile. African American and Mexican criminal groups transport multi-kilogram to multi-hundred kilogram shipments of marijuana to Alabama from the Southwest Border. Marijuana is typically transported into Alabama via commercial and private vehicles, and via package delivery and express mail services. Even though the highway system is a confirmed route for most of the marijuana seized in Alabama, another strong possibly could be the International Airports in the state.
Pharmaceuticals in Alabama: Alabama continues to see an increase in diverted pharmaceuticals across the state. OxyContin is still the number one pharmaceutical drug abused across the state of Alabama. The sale and production of Vicodin has increased slightly in recent years, along with the illegal abuse of the drug. In addition, current intelligence and investigations indicate that Alabama is a major market for Dilaudid. Distribution in Alabama has increased due to the fact that the price of heroin in the New York area has fallen dramatically causing the bottom to fall out of the market for Dilaudid. Distribution organizations are targeting the metropolitan areas of Alabama, because price they receive for Dilaudid is higher in Alabama than in the source areas.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been nine Mobile Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Alabama since the inception of the program: Selma, Pritchard, Alabaster, Enterprise, Gadsden, Anniston, Bessemer, Green/Tuscaloosa Counties, and Mobile/Prichard.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no Regional Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Alabama.