Methamphetamine, fentanyl are most prevalent illegal drugs in Albany area

Jan. 23—ALBANY — The national deluge of fentanyl hasn't bypassed southwest Georgia, and the highly toxic opioid is turning up everywhere and in all types of street drugs, from heroin to cocaine, a state drug enforcement officer told the Dougherty County Commission Monday. Methamphetamine also is ubiquitous and often mixed with fentanyl, a potentially deadly cocktail.

"Ten years ago, the main drug you could get was cocaine, then it was shifted to crack cocaine," Eric Schwalls, special agent in charge of the Southwest Georgia Regional Drug Enforcement Office, said. "Now it's methamphetamine. Meth has skyrocketed because it's so cheap to make.

"Fentanyl is being put in every drug out there. We've seen it in pill form, powder form. People think they're using cocaine ... and there's fentanyl in it."

During a Monday presentation to the county commission, Schwalls said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation drug office, which serves 42 Georgia counties, opened 164 cases in 2022 and made 143 arrests. Seizures totaled almost $6 million for the year.

Of the 164 cases, 25 originated in Dougherty County, but many of the cases involved multiple counties. The office targets upper-level drug traffickers.

"Just because you see 25 cases in Dougherty County doesn't mean other cases don't have a connection to Dougherty County or some of the other counties," the agent said.

While Albany is a hub for southwest Georgia, the main distribution point for the area is Atlanta, he said.

On opioid use, Schwalls said many people who become addicted to opioids start after being prescribed medication by a doctor.

At the last count, there were 28 confirmed overdose deaths in Dougherty County in 2022, with Coroner Michael Fowler awaiting reports on an additional nine potential overdose cases. For 2021, there were 38 confirmed overdose cases in the county.

Following Schwalls' presentation, the commission voted to accept a $248,000 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, provided by the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The grant will fund operation of the GBI office located in Albany.