Atlanta’s youth becoming collateral damage to city’s burgeoning drug trade

Narcotics are more readily available in major metropolitan areas like Atlanta and some students at Georgia State turn to drugs like Adderall to deal with the stressors of collegiate life.Photo by Kirsten Jackson | The Signal

In the past decade, Atlanta has become a hub for drug distribution in America. A 2009 Department of Justice assessment reported the city’s growing narcotics prevalence, production, distribution, and abuse, and the Drug Enforcement Administration considers Atlanta to be a critical drug-trafficking region of the United States. Both agencies have since committed HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) law-enforcement assistance programs to the area.

The prevalence of drugs is due in part to the location, according to Brian Dew, Georgia State department chair of Counseling and Psychological Services.

“It’s a catch-22, right? Being in an urban center is wonderful. It’s got great advantages,” Dew said. “There’s so many things going on. But when you live in a big city, part of what you get are more supply of substances.”

Dew noted that with a surplus of narcotics in the city’s market, suppliers are making drugs more potent, more inexpensive, and more addictive. He said, “Typically, and increasingly, these drugs are being sold, especially to young people.”

“These drugs that are being increasingly produced are now becoming stronger and stronger because the market’s demanding that. So a dealer will push a pill or capsule or a type of drug that has really a big bang for your buck,” he said.

The push for more potent drugs has led to more dangerous practices by suppliers. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, many distributors are lacing products like Xanax, heroin, and Oxycodone with fentanyl, a highly potent opioid used for anesthesia, without their buyers’ knowledge.

As suppliers’ use of fentanyl has increased, so have the fatalities related to synthetic drug overdose, according to investigator Eric Minter at the Dekalb County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Minter told The Signal that, in 2016, there was a total of 87 drug-related deaths, 13 percent of which were related to fentanyl. But in 2017, there were 102 drug-related deaths, 30 percent of which were related to fentanyl. He added that in 2017, compositely, 57 percent of total deaths were opiate related, and nine percent were related to synthetic drugs.

The Medical Examiner’s office only recently started closely tracking fentanyl-related deaths, which, he says, were when the U.S. Attorney’s office formed the Northern District of Georgia Heroin Working Group (HWG) in 2015.


Nick Sheridan, a graphic design student at Georgia State, said Atlanta is a hotspot for drug activity.

“There’s certain parts of this country where you couldn’t even get your hands on a certain drug if you wanted to. In Atlanta, it’s everywhere, drugs are everywhere, in mass quantities flowing through the city,” Sheridan said. He thinks that Georgia State is “at the mercy of the surrounding environment.”

Sheridan said when he first came to Georgia State, he noticed drugs all around, especially pharmaceuticals like Adderall and Xanax. A big component to people turning to these drugs, he said, is academic pressure.

“People who don’t even consider themselves users of drugs will take Adderall because of how much pressure they feel to do well in school. And it is so around, and it is so easy to attain, and anyone who has a prescription is pretty much willing to sell it,” he said.

Sheridan also said Xanax use is becoming “an epidemic” amongst young people, and thinks that the risk associated with it is extremely high. He said he’s known people that have gone into rehabilitation for addiction, in some cases for heroin, and that “it all starts with Xanax.”

A “slippery slope” ensues, according to Sheridan. As stated in a 2017 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report, benzodiazepines like Xanax are typically used to treat anxiety and insomnia, and prescription opiates are typically used to relieve pain.

In most people, the two drugs produce similar effects, and many patients are co-prescribed both. But the recreational combination of the two has proven to be fatal.

And with the prevalence of fentanyl in street-bought Xanax and heroin, the risk becomes even greater.

Minter said in Dekalb county alone 30 percent of drug-related deaths have been opiate-related, and additional 30 percent have been fentanyl-related.

A Georgia State student in recovery from opiate addiction, who wished to remain anonymous, said he has known 12 people personally who have overdosed and died on fentanyl in the past two years.”

“It was a lot of young people, literally, like, 16 to 25,” the student said, adding that he finds the spread of fentanyl to be “terribly frightening.”

“I mean, I’ve been there in my experience. There’s no way legitimately for them to know,” he said. “Because now, nobody’s able to tell, they’ll just hand you a bag literally 40 times stronger than what you’re used to, and you do it, and you just croak immediately.”

He also said there’s a huge challenge when it comes to recovery. “Opiate addicts are just constantly going in and out of rehab,” he said. “They’re a lot less likely to recover. And none of the young people are really recovering that much.”

He said he believes a large contributor to a lack of recovery is today’s culture, and how young people are normalizing abnormal behavior.

“Now, it’s cool to just do really awful things, and have no life, and do drugs,” the student said.

Dew reconciled this student’s encounters with the dangers of fentanyl, and maintained that those dangers do indeed produce serious consequences.

“I have talked to emergency room doctors in metro Atlanta, and they are seeing more young adults coming in with psychotic symptoms or with extreme agitation or paranoia, and it’s because of their substance use,” Dew said.