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MAMa: Meth is an epidemic in Gwinnett

LOGANVILLE - MAMa (Mothers against Methamphetamine) of Loganville and Grayson will host a town meeting Tuesday at the American Legion in Loganville.

The topic: the effects of methamphetamine on users, families and communities.

Janie Fulghum is one of the driving forces behind methamphetamine education in Walton and Gwinnett counties.

"Georgia has five times the national average of meth users," Fulghum said.

She attributes this fact to several causes.

"Did you know that I-20 is a straight shot to Mexico? Atlanta and its suburbs have become a major distribution hub for meth," said Fulghum.

The problem in Georgia is so widespread that Gov. Sonny Perdue created a GBI Meth Force earlier this year. The purpose of this 15-member force is to battle the extensive effects of meth use, including burglaries, assaults, domestic violence and homicides.

On Oct. 10, Perdue announced his decision to add another 15 GBI Meth Force officers, doubling the state's efforts to combat the trafficking, production, use and fallout of this dangerous drug.

"By giving law enforcement tougher laws to address the dangerous problem of clandestine meth labs in Georgia, progress has been made in reducing the number of meth labs in our state," said GBI Director Vernon Keenan.

"However, Georgia is a major distribution point for meth smuggled from Mexico for the entire east coast of the United States. These additional agents will partner with federal law enforcement in metro Atlanta to combat this tremendous problem."

But is the production and use of methamphetamine (also known on the street as crank, speed, chalk and ice) really a problem here in Gwinnett and surrounding counties?

According to Det. Tim Colgan of Snellville, meth is a particularly dangerous drug for several reasons. First, "it's cheap and easy to manufacture. Because it's a relatively cheap drug, kids can afford it."

It's also one of the very few drugs that triggers a physical dependency, not a psychological one.

"The addiction is immediate 98 percent of the time," said Fulghum.

"A kid might go to a party one night and smoke pot, then wake up the next morning and think 'Oh man, that was a stupid mistake,' and never do it again. With meth, they don't have that choice," Colgan said.

Spreading the word

Fulghum, as a MAMa of Loganville representative, travels throughout Walton and surrounding counties educating anyone who wants to learn about the drug and its impact on lives.

"My target audience is everyone who is affected by meth - in other words, everyone."

Fourteen-year-old Brittany Fulghum speculated as to why kids are trying drugs at younger ages, even in middle school.

"They're trying to fit in. They want to be 'cool' like the high school kids."

One practice common among middle-schoolers is "skittling," the practice of taking several different cold pills at the same time. Then there's "robo-ing," or chugging a bottle of Robitussin cough medicine for the foggy high. These behaviors at such young ages pave the way for harder and more dangerous drug use such as meth and ecstasy, which is a derivative of methamphetamine.

"Education is power," said Fulghum. "So many parents of teens don't know or don't want to know about drug abuse. It's kind of like, 'If I don't acknowledge it, it doesn't exist.'"

Experts agree that not acknowledging and understanding the raging meth problem is a dangerous practice.

Fulghum's presentations have gotten the attention of A&E Television, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Reformers Unanimous and local law enforcement; representatives from each of these organizations will participate in Tuesday's forum.