Are illicit drugs a serious problem in Chatham County right now?

Posted 7/5/19

SILER CITY — When the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office rounded up 19 suspected drug users and distributors in one day last month, it certainly created a stir.

Now, more than 20 of the 35 …

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Are illicit drugs a serious problem in Chatham County right now?

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Posted

SILER CITY — When the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office rounded up 19 suspected drug users and distributors in one day last month, it certainly created a stir.

Now, more than 20 of the 35 accused are in custody and facing court dates, bringing the total number of drug-related arrests in Chatham this year up to 64 through June 30.

Those who work in the drug prevention and law enforcement field have thoughts as to why it’s happening.

Both George Greger-Holt, community outreach coordinator for Chatham Drug Free, and Chatham Sheriff Mike Roberson say the drug problem in Chatham is no different than any other county. But there are some unique trends the two notice which might shine a light on where work needs to be done.

Most of those arrested in last month’s operation, a joint effort between the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and Drug Enforcement Administration, lived in Siler City, and 30 of the 64 arrested so far this year have Siler City addresses. Additionally, a Graham man was arrested June 18 for bringing drugs into the city.

Roberson said his department has put more focus on the city because of the rise of fentanyl, particularly in cocaine — seven of the 30 Siler arrests and 15 of the total 64 were mainly for cocaine-related charges. He theorized that those “struggling to meet ends” — Siler City’s median income is $27,124, compared to Pittsboro’s $49,277 and Chapel Hill’s $62,620 — usually use drugs “in a way that’s easier to find.”

“So you’re in public places, having to deal with different organizations that might expose what the issues are,” Roberson said. “If you are well off, you could have the same drug issues, but it’s harder to see because you’re not on the street, you’re not riding around in your car doing it. So a lot of that might have more to do with the economic differences — not that people in lower economic (areas) do any more or less drugs than people in high-income areas, but that it’s more difficult to interact with people that are not in public settings.”

Sixteen of those arrested on drug charges have home addresses listed from outside Chatham, including Staley, Greensboro and Sanford. Greger-Holt pointed to the major highways — U.S. 421 and 64, going through the counties — and the “significant problems with illicit drugs” in counties like Wake, Orange, Alamance and Lee.

“It’s not surprising that we would have product coming through here,” he said, “and if it comes through here, if there’s a customer base, then some of it’s going to land here.”

Roberson said drugs coming from outside the county is a problem every county deals with, that “there’s people in Chatham who do the same thing.”

Greger-Holt pointed to a specific drug that seems to be gaining ground in Chatham: methamphetamine. Of the 64 arrests, 16 were primarily for methamphetamine offenses, second only to 17 for marijuana. He said that in the focus on the opioid crisis, some drugs can get lost in the shuffle.

“The methamphetamine problem never really went away, and that’s one of the big problems with this business of substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and interdiction,” he said. “You tamp down one, and something else pops up. You know, the old game of whac-a-mole.”

One of the areas where both Greger-Holt and Roberson speak the same language is that the root of drug problems aren’t the drugs themselves.

“Chatham County does not have a drug problem,” Roberson said. “We also have individuals in Chatham County who have a drug problem. We also have individuals in Chatham County who don’t do drugs and don’t get involved in this. The real question is: how do we identify with the people that are hooked on drugs? We’re dealing sometimes with the symptoms of a different problem.”

Greger-Holt said it’s vital that more resources be directed to interventions and prevention work. He pointed specifically to the high number of those arrested with Chatham County addresses, 46 of 64 so far this year, and said there’s opportunity to do work right in the county.

“I always get a little upset when people say, ‘You can’t just throw money at it,’” he said. “Well, yes you can, because money means programs. It means people on the ground who are doing interventions. It means treatment, access to treatment.”

But in the meantime, Roberson and the sheriff’s office want to see more people report suspicious activities. In the press releases announcing the major bust and suspects still at-large, Roberson and his deputies spoke of the importance of community members in gathering evidence and making arrests.

“We don’t just happen upon these big busts,” the sheriff said. “We need the little information. We need the suspicious conditions, the things that don’t look right. We want people to report what they know is not right.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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