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Drug Unit: Prescription pain pill abuse among biggest drug issues in Southwest Georgia

Albany drug unit gives overview of what area agents are seeing

Maj. Bill Berry, commander of the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit, addresses the Exchange Club of Albany on some of the things the unit is seeing these days. In this area, abuse of prescription pain pills is a big problem, he said. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Maj. Bill Berry, commander of the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit, addresses the Exchange Club of Albany on some of the things the unit is seeing these days. In this area, abuse of prescription pain pills is a big problem, he said. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — Abuse of prescription pain pills is becoming increasingly popular among illegal drug users in the Albany area, the commander of the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit said Friday.

Maj. Bill Berry, commander of the drug unit, spoke to members of the Exchange Club of Albany Friday regarding some of the changes he has seen since he started his career as a drug agent in Macon in 1975.

“I’ve seen a lot in 38 years, but not so much changes as seeing things make a complete circle,” he said. “I’m seeing things I saw as an undercover agent in the ’70s.”

Among the more recent things to be instituted at the drug unit is a pill drop off box at the unit’s office on Pine Avenue as a way to help alleviate the issue of prescription pain pill abuse.

“No questions asked, people can drop (pills) in the box and we have them destroyed by incineration,” the commander said.

Helping spread the abuse of pain pills, Berry said, is “Skittle” parties — a setting in which random pills are collected and people are taking them, often without having an idea what they are.

“Unfortunately, it is a big problem here. Fortunately, we have been able to stop some of them,” he said. “Many of them are teens.”

Another way the ADDU is working to control the problem is to pay a visit to pharmacies, since most do not have time to call every physician office or pharmacy to check things out. Consequently, there has been good communication established between area pharmacies and agents when something comes up that looks questionable.

“We tell them if they see something to let us know and we will call the doctor and check it out,” Berry said. “Computers are so good that (someone) can duplicate a prescription and it looks authentic. Pain pills are a big problem.”

Agents are also seeing a form of marijuana known as “Loud,” which sells for $500-$600 an ounce, as well as a continuing cocaine and crack trade. Often, there are drugs — usually marijuana — being intercepted here by the kilo from places as far away as China and India.

“We intercept these packages,” Berry said. “They are not coming to Atlanta, they are coming to Albany.”

The most recent headlines concerning marijuana is the legalization of recreational use in Colorado, which the drug unit commander said might have potential to cause problems here.

“That doesn’t make it legal here,” he said. “If you buy it there, don’t bring it here.”

Something else Berry said he foresees coming back full circle in popularity is heroin, especially as users look for options cheaper than other pain drugs.

“Heroin will become popular again. It already is,” he said. “It’s going to be back. It will get popular again; there is no way around it. It will be a (cheaper alternative) to those who can’t afford pain pills.”

The commander also noted some of the recent efforts the unit is involved with in terms of recent Internet and gambling stings, the latter of which involved an assistant district attorney going undercover to make bets. He also said that, as far as the methamphetamine market goes, the trend in Southwest Georgia has moved away from the mobile meth lab setting — but there still are a high number of seizures.

“We don’t see as much as we used to (in rolling meth labs),” he said. “It has become a streamlined process. It’s been a year or year-and-a-half since we’ve seen our last mobile lab.”