VPD seeing an increase in meth use, arrests in the area

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, January 19, 2019

A drug once thought almost eliminated from the streets is stealthily making a return to the Vicksburg area as it is doing in other areas of the U.S.

Methamphetamine, a drug which had been shoved to the back in the wake of the alarm over the opioid crisis is starting to make a comeback, and Vicksburg police say their arrests for the drug are increasing.

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Lt. Jeff Merritt, VPD’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) commander, said the police department has made 17 meth-related arrests between Oct.5 and Jan. 18, which is triple the number from 2017. Six of those arrests were made in December. Police have made five more since Jan. 1.

“We’re making arrests daily,” said Lt. Johnnie Edwards, the department’s chief of investigations.

The reason for the increase in methamphetamine use, Merritt said, is the drug’s price.

“Meth is cheaper to make, it’s easier for a dealer to turn a profit. If you’re the user, if you’re going to spend $15 to $20, $20 of meth will last you a longer high than $20 of crack.

“If you’re a distributor or seller, you turn a big profit, because it’s cheaper to get your hands on it. If you’re a user, it’s cheaper to buy. You scrape together $20 and get you a high that will last for a few days.”

And it’s got a wide appeal.

“It has no racial boundaries,” Edwards said. “The drug doesn’t discriminate.

“It’s cheaper and everybody knows they can make money. We’ve seen from the lower class to the upper class.”

Flowing into area

Much of the drug, Merritt said, is coming from outside the area.

“I can’t tell you the last time we worked a meth lab,” he said. “Maybe the early to mid-2000s, before pseudoephedrine was restricted.”

In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which put pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in decongestants like Sudafed and a key ingredient in methamphetamine, behind the counter. The law limited sales to 7.5 grams per customer in a 30-day period and required pharmacies to track sales.

Merritt said the meth found in Vicksburg is reaching the area through a network of distributors and dealers that may include Mexico. And this version of the drug is different than before.

“A lot of what we’re seeing now is the ice (crystal),” he said. “We’re not seeing the powder meth or the rock meth, we’re seeing ice, and it’s already coming prepackaged and premade.”

Because the focus on the opioid crisis, Merritt said, meth has been overlooked.

“It’s making a comeback and it’s just as serious as opioids. I think we went through a phase where opioid prices — where you had all the prescription fraud going and the cases of people addicted to the painkillers — and kind of forgot about meth.

“It’s like it’s recycled. When I first started, it was cocaine, then crack cocaine, and then meth. In the 2000s we worked so many meth labs with the county it was unbelievable. It kind of went away when they passed the (federal) law, and now it’s back in the ice form, but in between, we went to the opioids.”

VPD cracking down

The majority of the meth arrests, the officers said, are possession cases.

Meth use, Edwards said, has been quiet on the low-end scale because of the way people get the drugs, “And when we get them, we don’t get a whole lot. These users have very little, but it is a felony.

“This is a department-wide effort to remove drugs from the city,” he said. “Patrol does a great job; they have made a number of arrests on meth, so it’s a group effort. Jeff and the NET Team work cases up, but most of them come from vigilant officers knowing what to look for. It’s the special training they receive.”

Edwards said the methamphetamine problem has other effects, adding, “A lot of our crimes are because of meth use, and involves the city and the county.”

And the problem, Merritt said, is not going away.

“It’s going to stay.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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