What goes around often comes around, and that’s exactly what law enforcement officers are seeing again in Sampson with a spike in the use and manufacture of methamphetamines.
Once a drug of choice by many in Sampson, use of meth took a downward turn for a few years, with both Sheriff’s Department officials and Clinton Police reporting fewer arrests and fewer still of the clandestine meth labs being discovered and dismantled.
But that trend appears to be changing, both in Sampson and across the nation.
“It’s everywhere,” stressed Sheriff Jimmy Thornton Monday. “It slowed down for a while, but meth use is back with a vengeance. We get calls nearly every day, and they are coming from across the county. This isn’t pigeon-holed in one place any more; it’s out there and it’s from one end of Sampson to the other.”
Clinton Police Chief Donald Edwards concurs, noting that in the city limits meth use has also seen a spike.
“Sometimes you see drug abuse go in circles. What was popular a few years ago, is the drug of choice today. That’s what we are seeing in the city as far as meth is concerned,” Edwards pointed out.
“Trends go back and forth. We have a lot of opioid abuse for sure, but it’s not all opioids either.” Edwards said it would be a fair assessment to say there is as much abuse of methamphetamines as there is opioids.
“You see more of the opioid abuse because of the overdoses and the number of people with prescription drugs, but meth is just as prevalent. Even though the government has tried to make it more difficult to get the precursors, people find a way around the limits.”
Those limits Edwards refers to include enforcement of pseudoephedrine use. The over-the-counter decongestant is one of the ingredients (or precursors) necessary to cook meth. Currently consumers can only legally purchase 9 grams per month of pseudoephedrine, roughly the equivalent of two 15-dose boxes of 24-hour Claritin D, or three 10-dose boxes of Aleve Cold & Sinus, or six 24-dose boxes of Sudafed.
But the limits, Thornton said, do not stop the determined drug dealer who often hires one, two, three, even four different people to go to drug stores, convenience centers and box stores like Walmart and Target to purchase the ingredients for them.
“Believe me, they will find a way around any limits; they are going to get it one way or another,” Thornton attested. “The ingredients are still pretty easy to get when you have multiple individuals purchasing them for you.”
While the sell and use of meth has been prevalent, with arrests showing up in law enforcement reports nearly weekly, Thornton said the number of labs being discovered hasn’t increased. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there; I’m sure they are. We just haven’t discovered them yet. But we will. I go back to what my good friend Sheriff Steve Bizzell of Johnston County always says, ‘if you’re cooking, we’re looking.’”
And they are looking, the sheriff stressed. “Every day. We don’t rest, and we won’t rest until we investigate every complaint. And believe me we get the complaints.”
But as with any investigative team, officers must focus on one drug at the time. “Sometimes you are dealing with cocaine, other times its opioids and, lately, it’s been ice or meth.”
Both Thornton and Edwards said they were unsure why meth’s popularity had returned, but pointed to its addictive nature and ease of manufacture as at least reasons why many often turn to it as a drug of choice.
“It’s highly addictive,” Thornton said, “so those hooked on it are going to find a way to get it whether they try to manufacture it themselves or find someone who does. And when there is a demand, there is always someone out there to meet that demand.”
Edwards agreed. “For every person you arrest for, say, meth, there’s at least one or two more out there ready to take their place. It’s a circle and often a vicious one.”
Both Thornton and Edwards agree that it takes a one-two punch of enforcement and treatment to curb meth use. “One without the other doesn’t work,” Edwards said. “You can arrest folks but if you don’t treat the symptoms, the abuse, then there’s going to be someone else out there to sell it. We have to help people with their addictions, too.”
“That’s true,” Thornton noted. “As long as people want it, someone will supply it. Treatment is important, and so is enforcement. We plan to enforce; that’s for sure.”
And one way to enforce is through the help of the public, something both the police chief and the sheriff depend upon.
“We want our citizens to step in and keep us abreast of what’s happening. If they see something suspicious, we need them to report it. We cannot do what we need to do without their help,” the police chief emphasized.
Ditto the sheriff, whose continuously praises the citizen arm of law enforcement that helps his team day in and day out. “We need the public to continue doing what they do — calling and reporting activity that they think might be suspicious. We encourage those calls; we want those calls. And people do, just about every day. Not every call will turn into an arrest, but you never know which ones will and which ones won’t so we want the calls.”
It is the only way, both men said, to curb the spike in meth use and, for that matter, to curb the abuse of any drug or stop criminal activity of any kind in its tracks.
“It’s all about working together,” Thornton said.
Reach publisher and editor Sherry Matthews at 910-249-4612. Follow her on Twitter @sieditor1960; follow the paper @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.