Gordon County natives spoke out about the prevalence of methamphetamine in the area in a recent book titled Shadow People: How meth-driven crime is eating at the heart of rural America by California author Scott Thomas Anderson.
Jim Langford, executive director of the Georgia Meth Project was one of those locals.
He spared no expense sharing his observation of methamphetamine (meth) use in Gordon County, in chapter eight, titled “trail of tears,” of Anderson’s book, as he hopes to put a face on the atrocities that come from meth use.
“Today in Langord’s mind, one of the organization’s (Georgia Meth Project) main goals needs to be putting human faces on the most innocent casualties in the state’s meth epidemic: small, defenseless children,” said Anderson.
The faces of the Georgia Meth Project just happened to be those of three young Gordon County children, ages three, four and 18 months, who died in a house fire in Lilburn, Ga. in 2011.
According to excerpts from Shadow People, the fire started because the children’s mother, also from Gordon County, and a man wanted for drug trafficking, arson and three counts of murder, cooked meth in the home the children lived in.
The family had moved to Lilburn from Gordon County just three months before the children died.
Innocent Children lost: “The Face” of the fight
Anderson records when Langford made the call to his hometown of Calhoun to receive the foreboding information confirming Langford’s emerging fears of meth’s grip on Gordon County.
“The state department of Family and Children Services reported that 85 percent of cases in Murray County where children were placed into foster homes involved methamphetamine,” said Anderson. “A startled Langford called a juvenile court judge in his hometown of Calhoun – the Honorable Suzan Hutchinson – and was told that methamphetamine factored into nearly all of the child deprivation cases that came through her court.”
This was personal for Langford because his family fostered a child removed from a meth home, but the statistics did not stop there.
A vast majority of the cases are repeat cases sifting through the court, according to Melissa Knight, Coordinator of the Cherokee Circuit Drug Court for Bartow and Gordon Counties.
The effects of meth, short and long-term and the highly addictive nature of meth, cause relapses to occur easily.
“We’ll have cases where a meth user has gotten their kids back because it looks like their addiction problems are behind them. Then it starts all over again,” said Teresa Rice, Gordon County Juvenile Court Administrator, according to excerpts from Shadow People.
Anderson outlined the Georgia law allowing parents the ability to regain custody of their children, however the cycle of relapse and abuse usually persist.
“Georgia law typically allows parents in deprivation cases opportunities to regain custody of their children,” according to excerpts from Shadow People.
Children experience the effects of meth through their parents, who suffering from the long list of methamphetamine side effects.
“Long-term use of meth is extremely damaging to the brain. Tolerance develops, requiring users to increase their intake of the drug to achieve the desired effect… Long-term use of meth can lead to psychoses such as paranoia and persecution mania. Addicts often behave in irrational, erratic and dangerous ways. They may display obsessive behaviors, such as constantly rearranging things. Many scratch at their skin compulsively, creating the cuts and sores that are a hallmark of meth addiction. These sores can also be caused by the caustic ingredients used to make meth,” according to the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Foundation.
Anderson’s book goes on to tell countless stories of terror involving abuse, gross maltreatment and rape from children describing their horrific living conditions.
Langford explains the importance of these stories is awareness, but still admits that reading the replies is heartbreaking and emotionally treacherous.
“They’re what 12 and 13-year-olds are telling us they’ve gone through—They show just how much children are constantly suffering because of meth,” said Langford according to Anderson’s book.
The fight is to keep the younger generations off of meth, and both Anderson and Langford share this goal passionately.
“All the state projects are doing good work focusing on young people. The community I grew up in is in their third generation of meth addicts. We have to keep that fourth generation from going down that road,” said Anderson, “I have been in courtrooms and seen whole families arraigned on charges. The grandfather, the dad and the son have meth charges. These kids are hard to reach. It is generational as much as it is cultural,” he said.
Meth: A persistent Drug, 93 percent persistent
According to Anderson, national experts estimate the relapse percentage for meth users to be 93 percent, making it so difficult for users to rejoin their communities successfully.
Statistics from the 2010 Department of Health and Human Services state that the likelihood and availability for teens to be exposed to meth decreased dramatically for the nation since 2002.
However, accessibility is increasing for Georgia, specifically in 2011.
“About two in 10 Georgia teens, 17 percent, say it would be at least somewhat easy for them to get meth, comparable to the 20 percent in the 2010 benchmark. One in 10 teens, 9 percent, reports that someone has offered or tried to get him or her to use meth,” according to the Georgia Meth Project’s Use and Attitudes survey 2011.
While Langford’s battle is on his front porch, Anderson’s book Shadow People depicts Law and Drug Enforcement officers, a majority in California, who have seen cities fall from grace into the dark, destructive clutches of methamphetamine.
Though meth’s presence has been evident for some in Gordon County, residents who are not exposed to the troubles of meth may find the evidence staggering and hard to believe. The question now is not why? But How?
How does the crippling effects of meth abuse sneak by in a small town where many boast of a tightly knit community?
Due to the national crack down on meth and all other drugs, the presence of meth labs seem to be dwindling due to main ingredients for cooking meth sold over the counter being strictly regulated. Often times this regulation makes it impossible for users to acquire the necessary ingredients.
According to Anderson, the drugs are merely coming into rural southern counties, like Gordon, by way of Mexican drug cartel’s. In Mexico, main ingredients for cooking meth are not heavily tracked and are easy to acquire in large quantities. It is smuggled into the country and eventually exchanges hands to end up in rural counties.
Anderson addresses Gordon County Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Paris who draws the connection between Gordon County and the evidence of Mexican Cartel’s bringing meth into the county.
The focus came with Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston’s election to office and the Sheriff’s focus shifted to “cartel middlemen,” according to excerpts from Shadow People.
“We’ve tried to put all our resources into targeting the organizations smuggling meth into the area. When you start tracking the firearms and electronics that have been traded for methamphetamine, it’s clear that it’s all Mexican cartel meth that’s here now. We haven’t had a real lab found in Gordon County in two years,” said Paris, according to excerpts from Shadow People.
The numbers aren’t there; the proof is in the user
In his book, Anderson records Langford recalling growing older and recognizing, during his visits home to Gordon County, the many foreclosures on generational owned farmlands “because the children who had inherited the property were unraveling from their addiction to meth,” according to excerpts from Shadow People.
The children of Gordon County were unraveling from meth addictions.
Meth statistics are few and far between, Langford explains, because many times crimes committed by meth users are charged for that crime and not the force behind the criminal activity, which is a majority of the time from meth use. This fact can also attest to emergency room (ER) visits.
“It’s hard to track. You will have someone in jail for shoplifting, they are shoplifting because they are on meth,” said Langford. “We have seen statistics from emergency room’s that show 50 percent of all ER visits are related to meth in North Georgia,” he said.
Though cold hard statistics are hard to find, asking any law-enforcement official, ER clinician or Drug Court liaison, people will discover the evidentiary absence of proof needed for conviction, let alone counting for a statistic.
Langford hopes the innocent lives lost in Lilburn, Ga. will open doors for change for a better Gordon County, a safer Georgia, and ultimately a healthier nation.
“… sun dissipated afternoon clouds, and beige earth was shoveled atop tiny, white caskets. Two brothers, ages three and four, lay stacked atop each other, their 18-month-old sister beside them…They died in a city; but their story was a Gordon County story, partly a rural story,” according to excerpts from Shadow People.
These faces were laid to rest in Dalton, but their tragic death, Langford hopes, will not be forgotten and will open the eyes of so many who need to see.
For more information about the Georgia Meth project visit their website at http://georgia.methproject.org/.