Davin Eldridge – Staff Writer
While the opioid crisis continues, another trend of illegal drug use is on the rise elsewhere in the county.
On May 20, deputies with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office arrested Franklin resident Paige Marie Smith, 22, along with an accomplice from Rabun County, Georgia. The arrest came after authorities discovered a meth lab out on 70 Melody Lane two days before. Upon executing a search warrant at the suspected apartment, deputies found a processing lab.
“Our deputies went out to the residence after receiving a tip regarding some potentially illegal activity,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “The suspects were living in a basement apartment and there were people living above them. When deputies arrived they saw several items that can potentially be used in the manufacturing of meth.”
According to a search warrant for the residence obtained by investigators, cops spotted a one gallon plastic jug with some plastic tubing coming out the lid. In a nearby location, adjacent to an outdoor burning pit, they found several batteries that appeared to be cut open. Neighbors, who spoke with investigators on May 18, noted a suspicious smell coming from the basement apt., and noted that Smith and her companion, Joseph Ryan Suder, had left the apartment the day before.
“The neighbors actually had to seek medical attention because they were experiencing symptoms associated with inhaling the fumes created in ‘shake and bakes,’” said Holland. A ‘shake and bake’ is a slang term for methamphetamine production facilitated through a plastic receptical—usually a soda bottle—which is periodically ‘shaken’ to activate.
While the May 20 case has yet to be resolved in the courts, the same can be said of the reemergence of meth elsewhere. While its overdose potential is much lower than that of prescription painkillers or other opioids, overdose deaths from methamphetamine have spiked in recent years.
In 2014, nearly 3,700 Americans died from meth overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control—more than double the 2010 figure. In 2015, the most recent year for which federal data is available, nearly 5,000 meth users died of an overdose, a 30 percent jump in one year.
“The beginning of the opioid epidemic was 2000 and we thought it was just localized,” said Kimberly Johnson, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Now we know that drug outbreaks aren’t likely to stay localized so we can start addressing them sooner and letting other states know of the potential for it spreading.”
Locally, the return of meth has been linked to the opioid epidemic. While both drugs are far different from one another, their regular use is not mutually exclusive to either.
On June 4, Sheriff Robert Holland met with residents of the Otto community to discuss the resurgence of methamphetamine. About 45 people attended, ages 50 and up, including local clergy, retired law enforcement, veterans, former teachers and concerned community members. As community members dines on plates of vegetable and pasta salad, meatloaf and sweet tea, Holland got down to business.
“I’m sure and almost confident that there’s people sitting here at every table tonight, with almost every family represented that addiction and opioids have affected in one way or another,” said Holland. “I know with my own family it has. So, the last thing I want to do is offend anyone with an opinion. But it’s one of my first opinions that I catch a little bit of criticism on but it is what I believe in, because it is what I do for a living.”
Like opioids, Holland said that methamphetamine is becoming nearly as pervasive of a drug in Macon County again.
“Say the drug addict is hooked on opioids and is not doing anything to get help and is stealing from family members and houses. Neither the family nor the judges can make you go and get treatment,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that if you want treatment, you have to want that treatment. That is just how it is based on what we do. We see people come into our jails all the time and as soon as they get in, mom and dad will quickly bond them out. And it is easy for me to say to parents, and I do it all the time – don’t bond them out, leave them in jail. That’s not my kid, so I don’t criticize those parents who do that, but I’m telling you and I’m going to tell you tonight. If you have grandchildren, if you have children and they get arrested. Leave them in that facility. Do not bond them out.”
Holland cited the county jail’s treatment program as one of the resources inmates can use to work on their addictions, but he stressed that it’s not a longterm fix.
“But when they get into our facility and they have an addiction, about 90 days into their incarceration, I feel, and the professionals who are dealing with them feel like that’s enough time for them to be in there, get their minds completely sober and start realizing where their world is today,” said Holland. “If they haven’t reached rock bottom, coming to jail is pretty close. And it’s not rock bottom – for any of us who have never been to jail – it’s not rock bottom. It’s losing your children, it’s losing your family, it’s losing your job, losing your house, losing everything you’ve got going and then you end up in jail, too. When they are in jail and they start realizing that this is not where I want to be that I want some kind of help, then they realize that is not where they want to be.”
Otto resident Tony Deacon asked Holland about what the main additional purchase he’d like to have for his office, if the county could provide for it in the budget.
“Oh my gosh we could go all night,” he said. “First of all, I don’t know if you know, but we spend about $300- to $400,000 on housing inmates from other counties. And a lot of people don’t understand that and they say, well why don’t you have them here – you can fill up the jails. Well, the problem is we have a 75-bed facility. We’ve got 93 prisoners as of today. We’ve got 61-68 inside of our jail and we’re paying other prisons to keep those prisoners that go up to 93.”
And the reason for that, according to Holland, is because of some of law enforcement’s biggest responses this year to the illegal drug trade.
“With Operation JawBreaker that we just had with the drug round-up—we can’t house those guys together because they’re going to end up killing each other and you’re going to call me because your son got beat up in the jail because he turned on so and so. Or he’s accused of turning on so and so, when actually he’s not spoken a word. So you got that, that’s an issue.”
Holland said Macon County spends approximately $8 million a year on the jail.
“My commissioners I can tell you and my county manager, know our needs. Every year during the budget talks, I put a folder together, a notebook together and every year, I give them this notebook and it’s a line item by line item. It’s accountability and the commissioners told me before I began this, ‘We don’t want your chief deputy, we don’t want your public information officer (which we don’t have). We don’t want anybody else but you to come and talk about what you need. So, I’ll give you an example. So, our line-item that we are asking for is $132,000 on vehicles, we get six vehicles a year and it usually gets knocked down to about four if they don’t pass it up and say we don’t get any vehicles. And so what I do on here, I give a line item. Every dollar we’re asking for we put in writing why we need it and give them stats and give them information they can go back and discuss.”
In short, the drug war at the local level has added extra demand for law enforcement expenses. But it’s not just Holland who feels this way. According to his opponent in this year’s Sheriff’s race, Bryan Carpenter, the war on drugs has only gotten bigger.
“It has moved to our county, communities, and everyone’s families have now been effected by this problem,” he said. “When you talk about the effectiveness of the opioid problem, we really have to look at the availability that people have to these drugs such as people doctor shopping, and or people just straight out asking for prescriptions. There has been a tremendous cut in the supply of these opioids. But the one thing that really hit home was, when I was talking to people getting signatures for the petition, I spoke with a man that stated that with the state making it hard on the people abusing the doctors and dealing their prescriptions, it made it so hard on him. It was cutting into his finances, and he could barely a afford to live as it stands. To some extent it has been effective, but is there a happy medium for this problem? When considering the possibility of methamphetamine making a come back, it is a strong possibility. When considering a drug user’s supply being stopped, they will find something else to get them their ‘fix.’ This being said, and the other restrictions on pseudoephedrine, we also must consider the comeback of cocaine and heroin. As far as giving feedback of how my opponent has done, I feel that the need for change is due because anytime you have the same players in a game you begin to learn them and possibly their next move. It’s time to stop playing checkers and start playing chess,” said Carpenter.