Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Greg Ramey and Tammy Livingood with Livingood Labs in Adairsville discussed the status of drug abuse in the area at a recent “Lunch and Learn” event sponsored by the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce.
“One of the biggest problems the GBI and local and federal law enforcement is facing right now is prescription pills (addiction),” Ramey said. “Time and time again we see children being introduced to drug abuse and addiction through something 100 percent legal.”
Ramey discussed how some children or teenagers become introduced to powerful painkillers like Oxycodone following an injury and end up becoming addicted.
“We have to coordinate as parents, as a community and say ‘we don’t need these things prescribed,’’’ he said. “Everybody is susceptible to getting hooked on it fairly quickly.”
Ramey praised the city/county’s drug disposal program, called Drug Take Back (which this year takes place on April 20) as a positive method of getting the pharmaceuticals off the streets.
“We tell folks, ‘Look, if you are no longer needing those things, turn them in and we will properly destroy them,”’ Ramey said.
The other scourge facing the area is meth, Ramey said.
“We are still having issues and problems with that,” he said. “When I started supervising undercover narcotic operations in the early 90s, our biggest problem in and around north Georgia was crack-cocaine and marijuana.
“We heard a little about methamphetamines in the 90s,” he added. “It was on the west coast. Whatever trend picks up out there ends up here.”
Ramey said in the early 2000s, Atlanta became a hub of meth distribution due to the convergence of major interstates.
“It became a distribution center,” he said.
Georgia law enforcement agencies started pushing back against the manufacturers, Ramey said, and began to suppress it to some degree.
“Then we encountered the second problem with meth,” he said. “It is very easy to make. I’m sure you have heard over and over about meth lab busts. For several years, we ran into problem of the availability of the Suphedrine product which is used in meth.”
The Georgia legislature subsequently made it harder to acquire large amounts of Suphedrine, he said.
“It still didn’t address making meth on a small level,” Ramey said. “That’s where we are at right now.”
People can go to the grocery store and buy many of the products used to make meth like the cold tablets, lighter fluid, lithium batteries, and other ingredients.
Mixing the drug can be potentially dangerous because of — among other things — the risk of the lithium strips (removed from the batteries) coming into contact with water.
“The thing that will make the hard metal (lithium) react with the other components is water,” he said. “They contain this lithium within a flammable liquid and pour water on it. They start shaking it and the water molecules react to the lithium and cause a fire. If it goes over to the side of a plastic bottle you have a flame thrower.”
In the workforce, drugs are still one of the major issues facing employers.
Livingood encouraged business owners in attendance to become drug free workplaces to help curb the trend of drug abuse on the job.
“It is cost effective,” she said. “You receive that seven and a half percent discount on the worker’s comp insurance. Nearly 77 percent of illegal drug users are employed.”
Livingood said that positive tests for marijuana are the most common results she sees in her lab during employment screenings or random tests.
“Of course the prescription drugs (as well),” she said.
She said the elderly are becoming addicted to the painkillers along with their younger counterparts.
Both Ramey and Livingood said alcohol is still one of the most abused drugs as well.
Ramey also pointed to tobacco products as stepping-stones to harder drugs.