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Coast Law Enforcement Agencies Team Up to Fight Drugs

June 28, 2002
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Coast Law Enforcement Agencies Team Up to Fight Drugs

by Brad Crocker, Associated Press

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) - When drug enforcement officers go to work, they know they're in for a fight, because they're going to be outmanned and outnumbered and that trend likely will not change.

It's no secret that drugs are a problem locally, nationally and internationally and finding ways to combat the problem grows more difficult and dangerous, officials say.

And what drug agents have to face in different areas can also differ from place to place.

Jackson County drug agents, for instance, for the past four years have battled an increased crack cocaine problem, while George County officials have been in over their heads trying to diminish a crystal methamphetamine epidemic.

Since 1998, about 95 percent of the nearly 800 drug arrests made in George County have been related to methamphetamine, said South Mississippi Narcotics Task Force agent Bobby Fairley.

"We've seen enough of that stuff to last some agents a lifetime worth of work, but we're not giving up," Fairley said.

Sgt. Eddie Stewart with the Jackson County Narcotics Task Force said that education is important when combating drugs.

"If we're getting calls about someone or investigating, then oftentimes it can already be too late," he said. "Parents, teachers, pastors and the community have to get involved."

He said children should be taught about the dangers of drugs at an early age when learning such lessons as not touching a hot stove, looking both ways before crossing a street and not leaving with a stranger.

Bruce Lynd with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics said that if children aren't taught about drugs in time, a drug dealer will step in and do it themselves.

"People would be amazed at some of the stuff adults do to get kids to sell or do drugs," Lynd said. "They make it appealing and tell them to ignore all the negative things they may have heard and that there's always big money to be made."

Agencies from across the Gulf Coast have formed alliances to fight the drug trade in south Mississippi, which is conducive to traffickers with access to Interstate 10 and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the rural settings are ideal for methamphetamine production, officials said.

Paul Barnard, station command intelligence officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Gulfport office, said local involvement has been limited to arrests made on private boats for marijuana use. But officers are becoming more aware of methamphetamine.

"We believe that people are using remote water locations and using larger vessels and houseboats as potential clandestine (meth labs)," he said.

Officials with the Coast Guard - which is also a member of Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area - also attended a recent meeting with U.S. Customs officials to better learn how to pool their resources with other agencies.

"We're so small that we couldn't do anything without help from Jackson County, MBN, FBI or so many other agencies," Fairley said.

One particular drug agents are monitoring closely is ecstasy, also known as the love drug because people under its influence crave physical contact.

Ecstasy - which is popular among teens and young adults and was sold heavily on the Coast in the early 1990s - can often be found at "raves," which are all-night, high-energy dance parties.

The first rave believed to have occurred in Jackson County was raided on March 9 in Cumbest Bluff. Deputies seized 76 tablets of ecstasy, 21 bags of marijuana, three kegs of beer, crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

Also confiscated was 10 pounds of nitrous oxide, commonly known as "laughing gas," which is used to heighten the effect of ecstasy.

Lynd said drug agents look for suspicious fliers containing clues rave promoters use to get the word out about the events, but to the average citizen who may see one going on, "they likely hear loud music and think that kids are just being kids." But an 18-year-old person who abuses ecstasy can have the cardiovascular and lung makeup of someone in their sixties, officials say, and an early death can be attributed to several other readily available synthetic drugs like LSD, heroin and date rape drugs.

Prescription drugs like oxycontin have been stolen in large quantities recently. Lynd said users melt the pills and inject it or take large dosages by mouth.

Stewart said that marijuana is still a problem in Jackson County, but a recent confiscation of a few plants from a George County man was a rare marijuana bust there.

But according to national statistics, 90 percent of drug users start with marijuana and about 70 percent of those people move on to harder drugs.

Stereotypes like crack being a drug mainly for blacks and methamphetamine used mainly by whites can be argued, officials say, but drug agents are taught otherwise.

"Drugs don't discriminate and don't care who you are," Stewart said. "We can never assume anything in this business, because when we start doing that, we can lose our edge."

Lynd said marijuana dealers and users are "lazy" and not ambitious and a well-organized sting or drug raid can put a dent into a particular ring, but marijuana's availability will always pose a problem for law enforcement.

Fairley said even with recent federal prison sentences being handed down to several members of a large local methamphetamine ring put a dent in the trade, there were many others from "cookers" to dealers who are well trained to carry on the business.

Lynd said he's interviewed methamphetamine users who acknowledged being awake for nearly two weeks at a time and conversations with them was like "talking to someone who didn't even know they were there."

One man told him that he drove without stopping from Jackson County to Georgia thinking police officers were following him the whole time, a paranoia episode that often occurs when someone is under the influence of methamphetamine.

Drug agents also have to try and stay one step ahead of drug offenders who use technology to further their trade, using cell phones, the Internet and other methods.

Lynd said that there are hundreds of Web sites devoted strictly to methamphetamine, some showing how to make it and others devised by law enforcement to combat the problem and educate others about the dangers.

Lynd said seminars and community briefings do help law enforcement get their message out but groups like George County Families Against Drugs and other similar groups can make a big difference, too.

Starting with just a handful of people last summer, GCFAD now has more than 300 members, who mainly formed to combat methamphetamine.

"Those people are a good example of how the community can help us," Lynd said. "They stood up and had taken enough and they said they weren't going to take it anymore."

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