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GBI lab seeing more meth than any other illegal drug

Methamphetamine is again leading the pack among illegal drugs tested at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab.

In new data released Monday, the GBI Forensic Chemistry section said 1,890 samples sent to the lab by law enforcement officials tested positive for methamphetamine — more than twice the number of cases for any other drugs. The GBI looked at 3,954 drug cases for 2018, spanning Jan. 1 to May 22.

After methamphetamine, the top five drugs are cocaine, alprazolam, oxycodone, heroin and hydrocodone, the report said. There have been 891 cases of cocaine tested in the crime lab so far in 2018.

“The top six drugs are very consistent so far with what we’ve seen in 2017, which is significant because when you talk about drugs like methamphetamines being the top volume, that’s a major concern for us,” Nelly Miles said.

Meth is a major contributor to overdose deaths in Georgia. It was the leading cause of drug deaths in 2016 and 2017, overtaking cocaine.

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The (GBI) collects data on the drugs most commonly found in the system's of drug overdose victims. In 2016, methamphetamine took the lead. The statistics don't include deaths from Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton or DeKalb, where data is tracked differently. (GBI)

Chemistry Section Manager Daneen Kilcrease said the crime lab has also seen a shift in the production of meth: it’s now available in an edible form.

“We have found methamphetamine in a cookie,” Kilcrease said. “That’s a very scary reality we have.”

The crime lab is accustomed to seeing edibles — they are higher in quantity than hydrocodone, Kilcrease said. But usually the drug found in these edibles is THC, a drug extracted from marijuana, not meth.

The process of producing meth has also become more sophisticated, Kilcrease said. Drug traffickers have graduated from cooking the drug in mom-and-pop style kitchens and now can chemically convert a liquid version into the solid crystals. The meth, which Kilcrease said has been found as a liquid tested in gasoline, is put into a hydrochloric chamber and crystalized — a process called “salting it out.”

“When it comes over as a liquid, they shift the chemical form and sell it as the pretty white shards,” Kilcrease said.

The report also names Cobb County as the leader in opioid use across the state of Georgia. There have been 79 incidents in Cobb, comparable to 68 in Gwinnett, 67 in Fulton, 27 in DeKalb and 19 in Chatham.

“When it comes to metro-Atlanta, you’re talking about a high population, a demand for this type of drug,” Miles said. “We had a huge transition when people were becoming more and more addicted to prescription pills and they’re not able to get their pills, so they’re turning to drugs on the street.”

The GBI Crime Lab handles drug testing for most police departments across Georgia. It does not test every item submitted by law enforcement officers and does not routinely test marijuana, which is largely tested independently by departments.

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