How Drug Addiction Affects the City of Atlanta


Drug Use and Abuse in Atlanta

How Drug Addiction Affects the City of Atlanta? Long known as the Gate to the South, in recent decades, the city of Atlanta has emerged as a gateway of another kind: The illegal drug trade. Many studies place Atlanta at the epicenter of drug traffic flowing from South and Central America, and the U.S. Department of Justice notes that the city serves as a cash consolidation center for the Mexican drug cartels that supply the eastern United States.

From methamphetamine to cocaine to controlled prescription drugs, Atlanta faces a number of challenges related to drug addiction — and these challenges don’t appear to be lessening any time soon. As the number of methamphetamine users in Atlanta continues to grow, so does the number of people admitted to the city’s emergency rooms, placing Atlanta firmly among the East Coast cities with the highest emergency department mentions of meth use.

In addition to the swelling meth epidemic, the region ranks 12th in the nation for the highest amount of HIV/AIDS cases related to injectable drug use. Though heroin addiction isn’t as widespread as cocaine or methamphetamine use, the prices of the drugs continue to drop as the purity continues to increase, making it cheaper to purchase and more potent.

Given Atlanta’s central location at the convergence of Interstate routes 85, 75, and 20, it’s no wonder that this metropolitan area has been granted the undesirable title of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area by the U.S. Justice Department. Metropolitan Atlanta and, increasingly, its surrounding rural areas serve as the distribution center for methamphetamine, powder cocaine, marijuana, and brown powder and black tar heroin for most of the eastern United States. Not surprisingly, drug addiction rates in and around the city reflect this reality.

Cocaine Use in Atlanta

Cocaine in powder and rock form, also known as crack, is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the Atlanta region. Though its use and supply seems to have declined since a high point in the mid-2000s, 27 of the 61 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the city identified cocaine as the drug that presented the greatest threat to the region.

Drug rehabilitation facilities reflect similar statistics. Cocaine is the most frequently mentioned illicit drug used by those admitted to substance abuse treatment facilities in Atlanta, especially when looking at primary, secondary, and tertiary addiction patterns.

In 2009 alone, the Drug Enforcement Administration Atlanta Division seized more than 1,756 kilograms of powder cocaine, a rise of more than 214 percent over the 817 kilograms seized in 2008. Findings from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that almost 4 percent of Georgia residents had used cocaine in the past year.

Elevated violent and property crime rates in Atlanta are also associated with cocaine use, especially crack cocaine. The National Drug Threat Survey found that 59 percent of law enforcement officials blamed crack cocaine for violent crime, while more than 55 percent blamed crack use for property crime.

Similarly, drug treatment centers in Atlanta report that cocaine, both crack and powder, is the most commonly reported drug of choice abused by admitted patients. Overall, almost 7 percent of the population of Georgia reported that they needed treatment for drug abuse, but hadn’t received any.

Methamphetamine Use in Atlanta

Though cocaine may still be the drug of choice for many in Atlanta, methamphetamine is giving it a run for its money. Over the past few years, methamphetamine laboratory busts have increased exponentially; between 2007 and 2009 alone, meth lab seizures increased by 91 percent. Of the 61 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the Atlanta area, 22 identified methamphetamine as the drug that presented the most significant threat to the region, a close second to cocaine.

The effects of meth addiction create a ripple effect, influencing users, their families, local communities, and Atlanta society as a whole. It’s estimated that meth abuse costs Georgia taxpayers a whopping $1.3 billion each year in costs related to treatment expenses, family and social services, lost productivity at work, and law enforcement costs. In fact, 42 percent of the cases of child endangerment in the state are related to meth use.

Dangers of Meth Use

Not only does methamphetamine use pose serious health risks to users, meth production is dangerous to the environment, as well. Due to the large amounts of toxic, flammable, and volatile chemicals involved in meth production, like acetone, anhydrous ammonia, and sulfuric acid, meth production often results in extensive damage to buildings, property, and the people who live in and around the labs. Children are especially susceptible to harm; children who live in or near labs have a greater risk of inhalation or ingestion of toxic substances, as well as neglect and abuse.

Though much of the meth used in Atlanta is produced locally, an increasing amount of ice methamphetamine is flowing up from Mexico in recent years. In fact, five of the ten largest meth seizures in the country in 2009 took place in Atlanta.

Controlled Prescription Drug Abuse in Atlanta

The abuse of prescription drugs is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States; it also presents a threat to the Atlanta community.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs in Atlanta Include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Buprenorphine

The abuse of prescription drugs is responsible for more overdose deaths in Georgia than any other substance. Of the 638 overdose deaths reported in 2008, 543 involved prescription drugs or a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Other Abused Drugs in Atlanta

Though heroin use isn’t widespread in Atlanta, it still poses a threat. In recent years, Mexican drug cartels have been importing black tar and brown powder heroin through Atlanta, using the area as a hub for distribution throughout the rest of the southeastern United States. Most of the heroin distribution in the city seems to be related to suburban dwellers who travel into the city, buy the drug, then take it back to suburbs where they use some and sell the rest. Overall, heroin use is relatively low — the drug of choice of about five percent of those admitted to Atlanta drug treatment centers in 2009 — but continues to grow.

Marijuana is widely used and abused in Atlanta. Most of the marijuana in the city comes from Mexico or California, though some is grown locally. In 2009, marijuana was the second most popular drug of choice among those admitted to drug treatment centers, falling only behind cocaine. In 2011, almost 20 percent of the state’s population had smoked marijuana at least once.

Dealing with Addiction in Atlanta

Whether the drug of choice is cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or prescription pharmaceuticals, illicit drug abuse negatively affects the Atlanta community. Statistics show that many of those who need treatment aren’t receiving it, and the state’s rate of drug-induced deaths hovers at a too high 10.2 per 100,000 people. From rising crime rates to increasing health care costs, not to mention the medical risks suffered by users, illicit drug use poses a real — and persistent — threat to the city known as the Gate to the South.

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