ROCKINGHAM — The federal government appears to be taking steps to address the methamphetamine epidemic plaguing the U.S.
Last week, President Joe Biden signed into law the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Diane Feinstein, D-California and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
The bill was passed by voice vote, so there is no record of individual votes, according to the website govtrack.us.
The bill requires the government to label meth as an “emerging drug threat” and to develop a response plan specific to methamphetamine and directs the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to “establish and implement an Emerging Threat Response Plan that is specific to methamphetamine.”
“We can and must do more to prevent these senseless overdose deaths,” Feinstein said.
“While meth isn’t a new drug, traffickers are finding ways to increase its potency and widen distribution, which has resulted in a spike in overdose rates,” Grassely said. “Our new law will help law enforcement better respond to the challenges presented by drug traffickers’ evolving tactics, and it will ensure our federal partners continue prioritizing a response and strategy to address the meth crisis.”
A study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which was cited in a press release from Feinstein’s office, found that meth-related overdoses among adults 18-64 nearly tripled from 2015-2019.
“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in the United States, and this tragic trajectory goes far beyond an opioid epidemic. In addition to heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are becoming more dangerous due to contamination with highly potent fentanyl, and increases in higher risk use patterns such as multiple substance use and regular use,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, who co-authored the study. “Public health approaches must be tailored to address methamphetamine use across the diverse communities at risk, and particularly for American Indian and Alaska Native communities, who have the highest risk for methamphetamine misuse and are too often underserved.”
North Carolina has ranked as one of the top 10 states for meth in the past decade.
Data collected by the Missouri State Highway Patrol showed the Tar Heel State ranked seventh in meth-related seizures — which includes discovered labs, equipment, glassware and dumpsites — in 2013 and fifth in 2018, behind Illinois, Indiana, New York and Michigan, the latter of which ranked the highest.
Records with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation the number of clandestine labs in the state peaked in 2013 at 561 and have steadily been decreasing since, with 120 in 2018 and only 49 in 2019.
There is no data for 2020 or 2021.
As this writer previously reported for the Daily Journal, Richmond County had the third-highest number of meth lab busts of the state’s 100 counties in 2015. Many of those were “shake-and-bake” labs.
SBI records show there were seven Richmond County labs busted in 2018 and three in 2019.
A map from the latter year shows Northampton County topped the state with nine and neighboring Anson County had eight.
In late 2014, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office partnered with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina in a meth-production investigation.
Sheriff Mark Gulledge says that since then, 74 individuals have been indicted and convicted on federal meth charges.
“After that, our meth charges and reports dropped dramatically,” Gulledge said. “We have since seen a slight rise again in the meth possession, but nowhere near the amounts we dealt with prior.”
As of March 22, nine individuals were in the Richmond County Jail on meth-related charges, two for trafficking.
Gulledge says many of the recent meth arrests seem to be related to the rise in opioids.
“Meth has taken a back seat to the new wave of heroin and fentanyl, we have not seen (anywhere) near the amount of meth as we did just a few years ago and cocaine possession has even been a lot less,” Gulledge said.
One woman currently awaiting court, Crystal Robles, is charged with trafficking both meth and opiates.