As Florida continues battling an opioid abuse crisis, another, largely forgotten drug has ramped up in North Florida—meth. Its low cost and relative ease of access, is making it harder for local law enforcement agencies to control.
Leon County Sheriffs Deputy Michael Wallace has seen the toll of meth first-hand. When he worked in Gadsden County, he befriended a known drug user, who got addicted to meth.
It removed the taste of addiction from her," he explains. Wallace says she told him, "I like to get high, but I don’t want no more crack – this meth is where it’s at."
That's when he says "I knew that this drug would become a heck of an issue for us when a known crack user didn’t want crack."
While most of Florida grapples with the ongoing impact of the opioid epidemic, and drugs like fentanyl and heroin that have stepped in as a result of tougher prescription controls, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Forensic Officer Mary Jane Havener says meth has risen to become a drug of choice for users in Tallahassee and North Florida.
"A much higher percentage of the overall drugs received in the panhandle are methamphetamine," Havener says, "where in Orlando and Fort Myers area where you’ve got those central and southwestern counties you see a much higher percentage of cocaine."
Meth is made with simple household products, which makes it one of the easiest drugs to access. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth users are more susceptible to extreme weight loss, tooth decay, anxiety and hallucinations.
"Meth... has become one of those things that, because of the nature of how it’s made and what it’s made of, its plentiful," says Wallace.
In a 2017 report by the Florida Medical Examiners, there were a reported 858 meth-related deaths statewide, a 38% increase from 2016.
Of those 2017 deaths, 82 were reported in the panhandle.
“Some of it is related to population, but some of it is related to what dugs are being used by the population," Havener says. "You do see differences regionally, and you also see some of those differences in the number and type of opioid drug.”
The report shows that meth caused more deaths in the region than Cocaine, Heroin and Fentanyl.
Local law enforcement agencies are trying to crack down drug trafficking in Tallahassee but because meth can be made in homes, it’s not as obvious, and users often become dealers. So, agencies like the Leon County Sheriff’s office rely heavily on old methods like anonymous tips and traffic stops.
Despite those efforts, Wallace says meth remains problematic.
“There’s certain drugs that we would look at and we would say, 'that’s a drug that going to hit the black community, that’s a white drug.' But you know what? Meth been one of those drugs that has no respect of a person."