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While Georgia is known as "The Peach State," it's also one of the United States' top producer of pecans, peanuts, and Vidalia onions—some of the sweetest in the world. But today, Georgia is probably best known for its capital (Atlanta) being the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement; you can find Martin Luther King Jr.'s house on Auburn Ave. But sadly, Georgia is also becoming known for something far more sinister-a growing substance abuse crisis.
Georgia boasts a comfortable average household annual income level of $78,574 and its economy ranks 11th in the nation. Given its relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that the state had been spared the scourge of substance abuse and addiction that has ravaged poorer states in America, but this isn't the case. Despite being well-off in terms of resources, the numbers for illicit drug use and alcohol addiction continue to rise.
In 2017, Georgia had over 1,014 opioid-related deaths, and it has consistently averaged over a thousand deaths a year for the last decade from complications due to drug use. Approximately 6.51 percent of Georgia residents reported past month use of illicit drugs, and the numbers continue to increase at an exponential rate. Over a 5-year period, the deaths attributed to heroin increased from 40 to 263 and over the same 5-year period, deaths involving synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl, one of the strongest opioid medications known to humankind) went from 61 to 419.
According to county data, there were over 100 cocaine-related overdose deaths in Georgia in 2018, (which is similar in comparison to the nationwide average.) However, crack is a major problem in many of the larger Georgian cities, especially in Athens and Marietta. While other drugs such as marijuana and benzodiazepines help fuel the national drug epidemic, cocaine and opioids are two of the deadliest illicit substances on the Georgian streets at present.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year. Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. 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 across Georgia like Sherman torching Atlanta, laying waste to whole communities and decimating families. In Georgia in 2018, over 60% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids, with 866 fatalities (a rate of 8.3)! These doctor-prescribed drugs are so highly addictive that the numbers grow at a shocking rate. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe 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, Georgia providers wrote 63.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people! And, 3% of Georgia youth (ages 12-17) report using prescription painkillers (opioids) in a way not directed by a doctor within the past year. Given the highly addictive nature of these drugs, this is particularly concerning.
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.) 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.
The good news for Georgia residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. We are now more connected than ever, and The Peach 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.
Georgia State Facts
Georgia Population: 8,070,908
Law Enforcement Officers in Georgia: 23,337
Georgia Prison Population: 82,300
Georgia Probation Population: 360,037
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 20
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Georgia
Cocaine: 1,308.1 kgs.
Heroin: 39.3 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 83.9 kgs.
Marijuana: 1,045.0 kgs.
Ecstasy: 8.393 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 175 (DEA, state, and local)
Georgia Drug Situation: The state of Georgia is both a final destination point for drug shipments and a smuggling corridor for drugs transported along the East Coast. Extensive interstate highway, rail, and bus transportation networks, as well as international, regional, and private air and marine ports of entry serve the state. Moreover, Georgia is strategically located on the I-95 corridor between New York City and Miami, the key wholesale-level drug distribution centers on the East Coast and major drug importation hubs. In addition, Interstate Highway 20 runs directly into Georgia from drug entry points along the Southwest Border and Gulf Coast. The city of Atlanta has become an important strategic point for drug trafficking organizations as it is the largest city in the South and has a nexus for all East/West and North/South travel. The entire state, Atlanta in particular, has experienced phenomenal growth over the last several years with a corresponding increase in drug crime and violence. With Georgia bordering North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, Atlanta is the base for several major dealers who maintain trafficking cells in these states; especially Mexican-based traffickers who hide within legitimate Hispanic enclaves.
There are 8.1 million legal residents in the State of Georgia, of which Hispanics account for over 5 percents of the population. The Hispanic population growth has been aided by an influx of undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico. Intelligence currently indicates that as the Mexican immigrant community has grown so too has the presence of Mexican traffickers. This is especially evident in the Atlanta, Georgia metro area. Other cities in Georgia experiencing tremendous growth in the Hispanic community include Dalton, Gainesville, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and Augusta. Cocaine seizures have increased dramatically as a result of the Mexican organizations moving into Atlanta as have methamphetamine and marijuana seizures for the same period. Most significantly, in recent years (2001-2003), the Atlanta Field Division has seen a change in the drug trafficking patterns in and around the Atlanta Metropolitan area. Whereas historically cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine have traversed the country from the SWB through Houston, McAllen, Corpus Christi and many other Texan cities traveling ENE (I-10) through Louisiana to Atlanta, recent statistics show that traffickers are using this route less frequently in favor of traveling north using state highways, the I-40 for example. This phenomenon is attributed to increased monitoring and pipeline seizures on the interstate highways.
Georgia Poly-Drug: Poly-drug Mexican DTO's are the preeminent threat faced by Atlanta Field Division Office. Mexican traffickers now supply kilogram quantities of cocaine HCl directly to local crack cocaine dealers. Half of all poly-drug investigations within Atlanta Field Division Office target Mexican poly-drug trafficking organizations. Mexican traffickers and Mexican DTO's will play an increasingly dominant role in the importation and distribution of illegal drugs within Atlanta Field Division Office. Recent intelligence indicates a poly-drug organization operating San Antonio, TX capable of transporting multiple kilograms of cocaine and marijuana from Mexico to various U.S. cities including Atlanta; a San Antonio DO investigation targets a large scale trafficking organization responsible for importing cocaine, marijuana, black tar, and methamphetamine into the U.S. cities, including Atlanta, GA; the Birmingham AL, RO reports a business front operating in August, GA that is importing cocaine and heroin into the U.S. and Atlanta which has ties to the Colombian narco-terrorists linked to the FARC.
Cocaine in Georgia: Cocaine and crack cocaine continue to be among the most widely available drugs throughout Georgia. Bulk quantities of powder cocaine are usually transported into the state and then converted into crack by the local wholesaler or retailer. Primary source areas for cocaine are Texas and California. While traffickers utilize several transportation modes, prominent methods of smuggling are the use of private or rental vehicles, and of recent tractor-trailers, with increasingly sophisticated hidden compartments, travel routes, and counter-surveillance techniques. Colombian cocaine traffickers use the Ports of Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah as cocaine importation points, and these areas remain major transshipment centers for cocaine destined for Atlanta, other East Coast drug markets, and Europe. During the past year, several organizations (Mexican and Dominican) have been identified which are responsible for bringing loads of 200 to 300 kilograms of cocaine to Atlanta for local consumption as well as transshipment to other parts of the region and East Coast cities.
Heroin in Georgia: Heroin availability remains stable throughout Atlanta Field Division Office. Seizures of street level amounts of heroin attest to the pervasiveness and the availability of the drug. Although heroin trafficking at times appear relatively low and stable throughout most of Georgia, there are regions where heroin abuse appears to be climbing. The sources of supply reportedly are located in Chicago, New York, and the Southwest Boarder. The most recent DMP report indicates that the predominant type of heroin in the Atlanta, GA area is South American. The purity of the South American heroin ranged from 51.8 percent to 65.4 percent. One exhibit was Southwest Asian heroin with a purity level of 40.5 percent. The Atlanta HIDTA reports more Hispanic involvement in heroin trafficking. Local law enforcement agencies in some outlying metro Atlanta counties indicate that heroin is becoming an increasing problem for their jurisdictions.
Methamphetamine in Georgia: Methamphetamine continues to increase in popularity and has become more prevalent throughout Georgia, leading to a significant number of arrests and seizures throughout the state. This trend is particularly true in the Atlanta, Dalton, and Gainesville metropolitan areas. Especially alarming are indications that the number of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories in Georgia has increased drastically. There has also been an increase in the availability of ICE, in the Atlanta metropolitan area along with locally produced methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is produced in clandestine laboratories located within the state.
Club Drugs in Georgia: Atlanta is transit city for Ecstasy to other U.S. cities. MDMA, GHB and Ketamine (Special K) continue to be popular and remain readily available in and around populations of young people (gyms, college campuses and associated “hang outs”) throughout the state. LSD is usually encountered at school settings and is imported to Georgia from the West Coast via U.S. Postal Service packages or commercial express mail. The wholesale cost of ecstasy, depending on location and amount purchased, varies between $3.00 and $15.00 per pill and the retail price varies between $8.00 (Atlanta) and $40.00 (Savannah). Ecstasy is popular in the hip-hop scene and is readily available in Atlanta’s nightclubs, “Rave” parties and concerts which target the younger population. An emerging trend among young adults is “candy flipping,” or combining MDMA and LSD, according to a local university report.
Marijuana in Georgia: Marijuana, the most commonly abused drug in Georgia, is readily available throughout the state. Mexico and the southwest border are the usual sources of marijuana that is imported and distributed in Georgia. The primary wholesale suppliers of marijuana are Mexican nationals. Local outdoor cannabis cultivation sites are increasing due to the normally ideal growing condition in the region. Because of DEA's eradication program, and the recent drought, some dealers have resorted to hydroponic cultivation of marijuana.
Other Drugs in Georgia: Diverted pharmaceutical controlled substances are widely available with Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Dilaudid (hydromorphone), Demerol(meperidine), and Percodan (oxycodone) being the most sought after.
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 11 MET deployments in the State of Georgia since the inception of the program: Columbus, Bowden, Atlanta, Marietta, Macon, Glynn County, Dalton, Griffin, College Park, Savannah, and Gainesville.
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 has been one RET deployment in the State of Georgia since the inception of the program, in Dalton.
Other Enforcement Operations in Georgia: The Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) was established by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in 1995, with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) as the administrating agency. The Atlanta HIDTA’s mission is two fold; it targets both drugs and violence within DeKalb County, Fulton County, and the city of Atlanta. There are 13 agencies participating in the Atlanta HIDTA, seven of which are federal agencies. There are three DEA Special Agents, one supervisory agent, two DEA analysts, and one supervisory analyst position allocated to the initiative.