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Meth, marijuana drive drug trade in Hall County
Recent Northeast Ga. bust highlights law enforcement efforts to thwart dealers
A sample of money, drugs and weapons confiscated in a drug raid by the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office.

Drugs of choice

Drug seizure cases by type from July 1, 2016 through July 1

• Methamphetamine: 259

• Marijuana: 364

• Pills: 265

• Heroin/Fentanyl: 31

• Cocaine: 42

Cases include seizure of suspected drugs or drug paraphernalia. Instances where multiple drug types were found in one seizure were counted as separate cases.

Source: Hall County Sheriff’s Office

Mitchell Posey knows his fellow agents will never be able to end the drug trade. Whenever one player gets taken down, another one picks up the game.

But shutting down drug trafficking organizations, like one dismantled last month in North Georgia, can eliminate “an untold amount of property crime and violent crime,” said Posey, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge with the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office.

“We’re trying to head off, cut off ... violent crimes and property crimes, and essentially a lot of violent crimes and property crimes are either directly or indirectly related to drugs,” the agent said.

The regional drug enforcement office served 10 search warrants and 30 arrest warrants at the end of July for members of a methamphetamine trafficking group in Habersham and Stephens counties.

Posey said law enforcement had investigated the group for about eight months, with the organization allegedly trafficking 3 kilograms per week in the beginning.

The Times filed an open records request for all narcotics seized by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017. The records show that methamphetamine, marijuana and various pills are most commonly seized.

Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad Lt. Don Scalia said marijuana and meth will continue to be No. 1 and 2 because of the heavy supply of both.

“The pills really seem like they’re taking an uptick as well, and that seems to be the gateway drug. They get hooked on those and eventually they get hooked on heroin,” he said.

Of the pills seized that were identified, oxycodone and alprazolam were the most prevalent. Oxycodone is an opioid often seen as Oxycontin; alprazolam is a benzodiazepine drug commonly sold as Xanax.

For the drug enforcement office, Posey said methamphetamine is still leading the list, but heroin is “rising way faster than we want it to” as the drugs make their way out of the metro Atlanta area.

While community leaders have discussed the growing opioid epidemic, heroin and the more potent fentanyl are not seized as often as other drugs, according to the seizure records.

“Heroin addicts really only get enough to use, and then it’s gone. It’s not like we’re stopping people or doing search warrants on heroin addicts and you find drugs lying on the table,” Posey said.

From his interviews with lower-level drug dealers, Scalia said money is not the primary driving force.

“They say that really as far as making a lot of profit off of it, that’s not really what they’re even into,” he said. “They’re just trying to supply themselves and make enough money to keep on supplying themselves by selling it.”

One traffic stop for the Habersham drug suppliers led to the seizure of 4 ounces of methamphetamine, which in turn stopped the supply for 15 or so distributors, Posey said.

“With that one traffic stop, it essentially shut down the drug trade for about 15 people. You can guesstimate how many customers each of those 15 would have,” he said.

Later in the investigation, Posey said the group was only moving 8 ounces per week, and the drug enforcement office doesn’t know “how long they were on hard times.”

With the group now dismantled, Posey said there will be a disruption in the trade until distributors and new suppliers can build trust with one another to begin business.

While the bust will get traffickers off the street and potentially into treatment programs across North Georgia, the trade will resume.

“It does essentially curb the methamphetamine trade in North Georgia, but by no stretch of the imagination does it shut it down,” he said.

In prosecution, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said his office most commonly sees cases involving meth, cocaine and marijuana. Synthetic marijuana has seen steady growth in recent years, Darragh said.

“We have also seen more and more cases involving opioids like hydrocodone and heroin. While minor offenders who are simply users can benefit from programs like Drug Court, those who sell and distribute are the most dangerous to our society,” he said.