“Finding people in possession of methamphetamine has continued to rise and has yet to plateau,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Vinson. “Over the years I’ve noticed that it’s become more and more of a popular drug in Augusta.”
Production of meth, a highly addictive drug made from household cold medicine, batteries, drain cleaner, brake fluid and other harmful chemicals, increased in recent years when the shake-and-bake or one-pot methods became popular. That form of cooking allowed users to make their own drugs with nothing more than the chemical ingredients and a bottle to mix them in.
Columbia County sheriff’s Staff Sgt. Michael Williamson said he’s seen meth made in homes, motels, cars and in the woods.
In recent years, the lesser quality homemade brand was more popular in Richmond County, but now investigators are seeing the purer, high-quality version of crystal meth, or ice, that comes from Mexico.
“It’s becoming more common that we receive large amounts of ice,” Vinson said. “In the past it would be a rarity to see an ounce of ice. We’re making cases by the pound now.”
In October, 14 local residents were charged with conspiracy to traffic meth from Mexico to Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie counties. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of life in prison and a fine up to $10 million.
According to the Georgia Meth Project, meth in the United States is at the highest level of availability and purity and the lowest cost since 2005, primarily as a result of trafficking from the Mexican cartels, which are the No. 1 source for all meth sold in the country.
“A lot of our cocaine and marijuana dealers are seeing the amount of money they can make on it so they’re stepping into that world, too,” Vison said.
Even if prices are at the lowest in almost 10 years, the purer, imported version can still be more profitable than other drugs.
In Richmond County, methamphetamine is quickly becoming the most common drug found. Columbia and Aiken counties aren’t seeing as much of an increase and said numbers have remained steady. Marijuana and prescription pills are still the most common drugs found in Columbia County.
Williamson said restrictions on ephedrine and pseudoephedrine purchases have helped curb the number of meth labs they have seen. In Georgia, buyers are required to show identification, are restricted to the number of products and are logged in a system when buying the products frequently used for methamphetamine production.
Although it is more difficult, labs are still showing up across the state.
In February 2012, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation received a grant to help fund lab cleanup. According to a January GBI report, the grant has spent nearly $950,000 on lab cleanup since it started. In January alone, the agency spent $56,000.
A team of Richmond County narcotics investigators has been formed to focus solely on methamphetamine labs. Recently there have been a cluster of labs found, including one in a bust at a home on Heckle Street on April 12. Vinson said investigators found people in the process of cooking the drug and discovered finished product and a large amount of cash.
The user demographics are also changing. In the beginning of its rise, methamphetamine was commonly known as “the white man’s drug,” but now police are seeing it cross into all racial and economic areas.
“We’ve seen young teenagers and middle-schoolers on up to their 60s using it,” Vinson said. “There are no parameters – no age, economic or racial lines any more.”
Although it’s still more commonly found in lower income brackets, Columbia County police say they are seeing more high-income users.