Illegal drug use changing in Augusta area

Marijuana is still the most commonly used illegal drug in Richmond and Columbia counties, but the second most popular is changing.

Cocaine once held the second spot in Richmond County but has now been surpassed by prescription drugs. In Columbia County, methamphetamine is the second most popular.

Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Rollins said officers are confiscating large amounts of prescription drugs such as hydrocodone, Percocet and Xanex. The drugs are making their way onto the streets through theft of doctor prescription pads, “doctor shopping,” faking illnesses to access medication and some “pill mills” that have been uncovered in the county.

“We focus on everything, but we go where the information takes us,” Rollins said. “Right now we seem to be getting a lot of information on prescription pills – people dealing them and selling them.”

In the past 12 months, narcotics officers have taken “thousands and thousands” of pills off the streets.

During that same period, investigators in Richmond County uncovered 24 methamphetamine labs, confiscated hundreds of pounds of marijuana, five to 10 kilos of cocaine, 183 guns, made more than 1,700 drug related arrests and issued 182 search warrants.

“In the past year, we’ve probably picked up more varieties of drugs than we have in a long time,” Rollins said.

In Columbia County, prescription pills and cocaine cases are not as frequent as ones involving methamphetamine.

Most of the meth investigators are finding in Columbia County is coming from outside of the area as evident from the higher purity of the product.

Police said other drugs are popping up more frequently.

Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana, is appearing in both counties and molly, a powdered form of ecstasy that provides a quicker high, has been found several times in Augusta.

“Spice is an aggravation,” Rollins said of the fairly new drug. “I really worry about people’s health with that ... Anytime we run up on someone selling it, we do our best to put them out of business.”

The sheriff’s office has closed two businesses for selling spice. At one point, officer confiscated more than 7 pounds of the drug.

Whereas spice and molly are fairly new on the streets, older drugs such as heroin and hashish are reappearing in Augusta.

“It’s not significant,” Rollins said, “but it is something we’re looking at because all of a sudden it’s popped back up.”

Rollins said East Augusta, Harrisburg, Meadowbrook and Barton Village are problem areas.

“There’s no place that’s drug-free,” he said. “We would like for it to be, but it seems to go into every neighborhood.”

Both Harrisburg and East Augusta are being helped by potential drug homes being cleaned up or torn down and lots being cleared, Rollins said.

“Nothing can be solved overnight,” Rollins said. “The more we get in there, the more we enforce it, the more search warrants we do, the cleaner and cleaner it’s going to get. It’s a long haul.”

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HOW TO HELP YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Sheriff’s offices in Richmond and Columbia counties urge residents to call with any drug tips.

Police ask callers to give as many details as possible, including vehicle tag numbers and descriptions of people and vehicles. Because the tip line is anonymous, officers often find themselves with too little information and no way to contact the caller for additional information.

Police also ask residents to be patient after providing information. Visible results are sometimes slow as undercover officers and vehicle move into the area to investigate.

“It takes a while to build a case,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Allan Rollins. “Thinking you know something and proving they’re doing it are two different things. It takes a while to where we can prove it and get it in front of a judge.”

Richmond County anonymous tips can be left through the drug hotline at (706) 828-DRUG. Columbia County tips can be let at (706) 541-3910.

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