VALDOSTA, Ga. — A traffic stop along a South Georgia stretch of Interstate 75 led to the discovery and confiscation of a drug that’s rarely seen in a local community compared to those in other areas of the United States — heroin.
Following a speeding stop late last month, deputies reported finding 19 grams of the synthesized opioid along with five grams of crack and powder cocaine, a bag of Ecstasy pills and a bag of Alprazolam pills, according to a Lowndes County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office report. Scales “commonly used for weighing drugs” and a Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter handgun reported stolen from central Florida were also found during the stop.
Deyonco Lindsey Jackson, 29, of Orlando, Florida, was charged with trafficking in heroin, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute, possession of Alprazolam with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, theft by receiving stolen property, speeding, possession of tools for the commission of a crime, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to a report from the sheriff’s office.
LCSO Capt. Stryde Jones said it was the first heroin-related case he could recall the sheriff’s office working in a while. The captain estimated the sheriff’s office works about two or three heroin-related cases per year.
“Our regional problem isn’t heroin,” Jones said. “It’s meth.”
Why? Neither he nor Valdosta, Georgia, Police Department Cmdr. Leslie Manahan could say.
Heroin is relatively inexpensive. In pockets of North Georgia and in cities in other Eastern states, heroin possession, use and overdose have run rampant. Several metropolitan cities and rural regions throughout the nation, in recent years, have reported heroin as an epidemic.
States deemed in crisis by authorities and experts like Massachusetts and Kentucky have seen a staggering number of heroin and opioid-involved arrests and deaths linked to abuse and overdose of the highly addictive drug.
“More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes — and most of those involve opioids and heroin,” according to a release from the Middle District of Georgia United States Attorney Office last month as part of National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Awareness Week.
Yet, South Georgia law enforcement officials say a person is more likely to find marijuana and cocaine in Valdosta; marijuana and meth in the Lowndes County. Synthetic drugs can be found in both jurisdictions to a lesser degree. Prescription drug abuse can also be found in the city and county.
But heroin is reportedly scarce in the region.
Both Manahan and Jones said their respective departments rarely work heroin cases. When they do see a heroin case, it is typically related to someone from outside of the area — such as the case along I-75 in late September.
News reports in other regions are rife with young people dying of heroin overdoses, thefts and acts of violence related to heroin use, and people hospitalized for heroin addiction.
In October 2015, when President Barack Obama wanted to focus on the drug, he visited Charleston, West Virginia, described by Time magazine as the “center of (the) heroin epidemic.”
“West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths at a rate of 33.5 per 100,000 people — a little over twice the national average,” according to the 2015 Time article. “A ... report by the state’s Health Statistics Center shows about 2,900 West Virginians have overdosed on prescription painkillers in the past five years.”
While Charleston, West Virginia, police officers carry Naloxone, a medication that can reverse the impact of an overdose, South Georgia officers do not, according to the VPD and LCSO. They do not see a similar need to carry Naloxone.
Yet, even with law-enforcement reporting a relatively small number of heroin-related cases, Valdosta-Lowndes County has experienced tragedy related to the drug.
In a health report released late last month by OASIS, the Online Analytical Statistical Information System within the Georgia Department of Public Health, one person died of a heroin overdose in Lowndes County in 2015.
The 2015 death was the only heroin-related death in the county since 2010, said Courtney Sheeley, communications specialist for the area’s South Health District.
Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia reports working with clients addicted to or abusing meth and synthetic drugs — or “synths” — such as molly or flakka, but only an occasional heroin addict, Berinda Nwakamma, the agency’s engagement/marketing coordinator, said.
“Heroin hasn’t made the great migration here,” she said.
Nwakamma said heroin possibly hasn’t become a problem in South Georgia because of the easier access to and availability of other drugs such as meth and synths.
However, the Valdosta-Lowndes County community is not immune to the possibility of a heroin problem given its proximity to Florida, the interstate, a university, and a military base, she said.
Other South Georgia communities have already indicated signs of a growing heroin problem. Albany-Dougherty County law enforcement reported at the end of September seeing an increase of heroin use in Metro Albany, according to a WALB news report.
Poling writes for the Valdosta, Georgia Daily Times.