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Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and it affects people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old. No state in the US has been spared. But for Mississippi—which has the highest poverty rate in the nation--the problem is particularly challenging.
According to U.S. News & World Report, Mississippi's poverty rate of 19.7 percent (meaning 19.7% of its residents now live below the poverty line) makes it the poorest in America. (Eight of the 10 most impoverished states reside in the south.) The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MDMH) reports that an average of 12,000 youths struggle with an alcohol or drug dependence each year, and thus it would be easy to think that poverty causes the 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.
In Mississippi, nearly 60% of drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved prescription painkillers, (opioids.) Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Mississippi like a hurricane, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. It's 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. These drugs are stealing our family members, our sons, our daughters, and our very future. Southern states, including Mississippi, have the most prescriptions per person for opioid painkillers.
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.
Opioids, including prescription pills, fentanyl, heroin, and methadone, were involved in 56.2% cases of overdose in Mississippi. Benzodiazepines were recorded in almost one fifth 18.1%, psychostimulants (like methamphetamine) in 31.4% and cocaine in 9.5%.to the corresponding national annual average percentage.
A 2010 study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Mississippi residents:
175,000 residents of Mississippi are estimated to have used marijuana within the last year. This is of particular concern because marijuana can often be a launching board for trying other harder and more dangerous drugs.
37,000 are estimated to have used cocaine within the last year.
100,000 people in Mississippi are estimated to have used prescription painkillers in a manner other than prescribed by a doctor within the last year. This is concerning because, as described above, addiction can take hold after only a few pills.
The good news for Mississippians struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. "The Magnolia State" is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a larger 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.
Drug Situation: While cocaine, particularly “crack” cocaine, is still considered to be the biggest drug threat facing the state of Mississippi, the increase in methamphetamine abuse and manufacturing follows closely behind. There has been a steady increase in production of methamphetamine, which poses a serious threat to abusers, law enforcement personnel, and the public alike. The drug of choice and most widely abused drug among consumers in Mississippi is marijuana. Other dangerous drugs (MDMA, LSD, GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol) have remained popular among young drug users. Diversion of pharmaceutical drugs is still of significant concern in Mississippi with OxyContin abuse continuing to rise.
The movement of illegal drugs into and through Mississippi has been a significant problem for law enforcement for a number of years. Mississippi is ideally suited with its interstate system, deepwater and river ports, and air and rail systems as the “Crossroads of the South” to facilitate drug movement from the South Texas/Mexico area and Gulf ports to the entire midwest and the eastern seaboard of the United States. Drug trafficking patterns indicate the interstate highway system to be the preferred method of transporting illegal drugs into and through Mississippi. Highway interdiction is accomplished primarily through fragmented patrols by state and local law enforcement.
Cocaine: Cocaine is widely used and trafficked throughout Mississippi. Cocaine, in both powder-form “HCl” and base-form “crack,” is the most problematic drug for communities and law enforcement in Mississippi. There is often a direct connection between the use and/or sale of cocaine and crime, especially violent crime. In Mississippi, cocaine is being illicitly trafficked and used by people from all racial and socioeconomic groups throughout the state’s 82 counties. Cocaine base, “crack” cocaine, is still the drug of choice among users and traffickers in the African-American population in both urban and rural areas of Mississippi.
Unique to the Mississippi Gulf Coast counties of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson are Vietnamese gangs involved in drug trafficking. These Vietnamese gangs, primarily operating in the Biloxi area, are heavily involved in the distribution of powder cocaine and the club drug ecstasy. The primary cocaine sources for these Vietnamese dealers are located in Texas and California. Vietnamese dealers are known to supply some of the African-American dealers with powder cocaine which is then converted “cooked” into crack-cocaine for local sale.
Mexican traffickers are loosely organized in Mississippi but are believed to be associated with large Mexican gangs operating in Memphis, Tennessee. Overall, the Mexican population in Mississippi is steadily growing and Mexican drug trafficking groups are increasing in the rural, agricultural areas of the state.
Heroin: Heroin continues to be a rare commodity in the state of Mississippi, according to reports from several local and state agencies. Most of the state’s heroin seizures come from users, although there have been cases where heroin has been seized from local independent dealers. These dealers have only had small amounts in their possession. Heroin seen in central and southern Mississippi is believed to have come from Texas and New Orleans, while the northern part of the state is getting its heroin from the Memphis, Tennessee area. Seizure figures indicate Mexican Brown (Black Tar) is the most popular type of heroin found throughout the state, however, South American white heroin has been seen in some areas.
Methamphetamine: The manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine is one of the fastest growing drug problems in Mississippi. Methamphetamine is brought in from other areas of the United States and across borders. Methamphetamine use in Mississippi is rampant. Virtually unheard of four years ago or found only in the trucking community, methamphetamine is now approaching epidemic proportions in the state.
Not only has methamphetamine use and abuse impacted the law enforcement community, Mississippi farmers, and local merchants, but also the drug treatment centers have been affected by rising admissions. According to professionals working in the drug treatment centers, methamphetamine abuse was first seen approximately five years ago with a significant increase occurring within the past three years. The need for treatment is enormous.
Initially, methamphetamine availability was concentrated in the far northern counties of Mississippi; however, several factors quickly contributed to the spread of the problem throughout northern Mississippi. Bridges at Greenville; Washington County, Mississippi; Helena, Arkansas; Coahoma County, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee provide direct access to the states of Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. These states have had a tremendous problem with the manufacture of methamphetamine, which led to tougher laws and more enforcement in those states. That pressure pushed manufacturers into northern Mississippi because of the ample supply of anhydrous ammonia and the need for less pressure from law enforcement.
The crystalline form of methamphetamine, known as “ice”, “glass”, or “crystal,” is gaining popularity. This crystal methamphetamine reportedly came from either California or Texas, and was transported to the area by transport trucks. The violators referred to the methamphetamine as “Chrome.”
The theft of precursor chemicals has increased greatly. The majority of merchants are cooperating with law enforcement by limiting access to the number of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine tablets that can be purchased as well as other items needed to manufacture methamphetamine. Because of their cooperation, however, shoplifting has increased.
Club Drugs: Both LSD and MDMA are being distributed and used in and around local nightclubs, at rave parties, and on college campuses. MDMA seizures have increased significantly since 1998. MDMA has become the most prevalent and popular of the “club” or “designer” drugs in Mississippi. GHB, Rohypnol and Ketamine are not currently known to be widely used or popular. LSD found in Mississippi normally comes from California. MDMA found in Mississippi is primarily from sources in California, New York, Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Pharmaceuticals: In Mississippi, diversion of pharmaceuticals is primarily occurring at the retail level through schemes such as forging or altering prescriptions and through doctor shopping. Illicitly diverted prescription drugs are being abused by some from all racial and socioeconomic groups. Currently, Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Alprozalam (Xanax), Diazapam (Valium), Oxycodone (Percodan, OxyContin), Lorazepam (Alivan) and Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) are the most widely diverted and abused pharmaceutical drugs in central Mississippi. OxyContin is currently the pharmaceutical drug of concern due to 14 overdoses in recent years. These drugs, and others like Rohypnol, are also being obtained in large quantities from sources in Texas border towns, especially Laredo, Texas. Another widespread problem is the illegal purchasing of large quantities of cold medicine containing ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, from grocery and drug stores, which is being converted, through use of chemicals, into methamphetamine.
Marijuana: Large quantities of Mexican marijuana are transported from Texas through Mississippi on Interstates 10, 12, and 55 destined for larger cities in the Northeastern and Southeastern United States. Couriers in pick-up trucks, vans, tractor-trailers and buses transport the marijuana in 50, 100 and 200 pound quantities in concealed compartments. Proceeds from the drug sales are returned in the same manner. Domestically cultivated marijuana is available throughout Northern Mississippi in patches of four to five plants in and around dense vegetation on United States forestry land and around area lakes. Marijuana is trafficked and used by all ethnic and socioeconomic groups in Mississippi, often along with or after the use of cocaine and methamphetamine.
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 seven MET deployments in the State of Mississippi since the inception of the program: Jackson (2), Gulfport, Hancock County, Greenville, Hattiesburg, and Grenada.
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 RET deployments in the State of Mississippi.