ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (CIRCA) – The opioid epidemic dominates headlines across the country as it leaves a heavy death toll in its path, but in some parts of the country it is crystal meth that still holds the power.
“For us, meth is more of a problem than opioids are. We see more meth, seize more meth," said a Virginia drug task force agent who spoke anonymously to Circa.
And the drug’s grip on communities is tightening as desire for the drug remains high and the supply shifts hands.
"Meth continues to be a problem despite the fact there are fewer clandestine labs," said Barbara Carreno, spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters.
Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, which limited and tracked the sale of pseudoephedrine, or better known as brand name Sudafed, an ingredient for made in the USA meth labs.
This led to a drastic drop in the number of domestic meth labs, according to law enforcement, but the market did not disappear.
So far in 2018, Customs and Border Patrol’s Office of Field Operations have seized over 67,000 pounds of meth.
Around 14,000 pounds was seized in all of 2012.
"Demand for meth is still there, it's just being supplied almost exclusively by the Mexicans," Carreno said.
About 30 percent of law enforcement agencies that responded to the 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment by the DEA said meth was the greatest threat to their community.
Nearly the same percentage said meth was the drug that takes up the most law enforcement resources. Heroin was the highest with 36 percent of responding agencies.
In one rural community in Virginia, about 800 grams of meth was seized in 2013, but already this year they have seized over 11,000 grams, according to law enforcement.
“There's not been a reduction in it despite our efforts. Each year our amount that we seize is continually going higher," said the Virginia drug task force agent.
Rockingham is located along the Interstate 81 corridor, a major drug trafficking route, law enforcement said.
But in terms of numbers of deaths, opioid overdoses are still in the lead. Over 60,000 people died of an overdose related to opioids in 2017, while there were just over 10,700 drug overdoses involving meth, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Meth is not getting a highlight because it's not killing as many people as the opioid crisis is. A meth user usually doesn't overdose and die from methamphetamine," said the Virginia task force agent.
Darren Braun is one of those meth users who survived his addiction.
“I really was addicted to meth in a way that I thought that only death would free me,” said Braun.
Meth was his drug of choice for nearly 20 years and he said the drug has always been a problem.
“When I see these things on Facebook about meth being the new heroin, I actually respond and I'm like, it's always been a constant within the community," said Braun.
And now, he knows of heroin addicts who are switching over to meth.
"I know this from hanging out with people who are heroin addicts, is that it does help them feel well. So they'll use it to get well and then they'll use it because they know somebody who has it and then they'll transfer their addiction over,” said Braun.
And it all becomes part of the never ending drug crisis.
“We've seen it through history, we focus on one drug and another drug spins off of it. So I don't think we're ever gonna eliminate the drug problem, period," he said.