Supply and demand: the drug problem in Greenville County

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) - In the world of drugs, it's basic economics of supply and demand. The demand for drugs is especially high in Greenville County, so drug dealers are finding ways to get their products into the Upstate.

However, the Greenville County Sheriff's Office and FAVOR Greenville, a drug recovery center, are working together to fix one of the biggest problems in the county. The Sheriff's Office works to reduce supply while FAVOR works to reduce demand.

The sheriff's office reduces supply through the work of the Greenville Highway Operations Specialized Traffic Team, or GHOST. The team is comprised of four deputies and two K-9s. Their main goal is getting illegal items off of the interstate.

"It's so important they're out there because of the import of drugs into this city," said Sheriff Will Lewis.

The team was formed last year after he took office. They said investigators noticed an increase of meth trafficking and arrests in the upstate. Deputies say meth is a readily available product, and last year, there was a 50 percent price drop because of an influx of drug crossing the boarder. However, deputies noticed that the number of local meth labs had drastically decreased in the county.

"In absence of meth labs where people are actually making it here, producing it here, and selling it here, they're importing it from other areas," Sheriff Lewis said.

In 2017 on a 16 mile stretch of highway, the team seized 217 pounds of marijuana, 22 pounds of heroin, 15 pounds of meth, 1.2 pounds of grey death, 20 illegal guns, 2 stolen vehicles, 221 cartons of illegal untaxed cigarettes, 86 fraudulent credit cards, 75 dosage units of pills, and $34,036.  All of those seizures led to 60 arrests, and while the GHOST team was working, there were no traffic fatalities on the interstate.

The sheriff's office also has a deputy working airport/parcel seizures. That deputy has recovered 185 pounds of marijuana, 637.5 grams of heroin, 7.8 pounds of meth, three guns, and $89,080.

The team also works with other agencies to figure out trends. The sheriff says that's helped in cases like the grey death seizure.

"We knew that was coming because they had made a hit in Georgia," Sheriff Lewis said. "Within a month, we saw grey death in the Upstate. That communication between different agencies allowed us to know what type of trend was coming and be able to identify it because I'm not 100 percent sure if we had stopped that car and found this.. I don't know if we would've know what it was at the time."

The team says through their work, they've seen quite a bit and learned that drug mules can truly be anyone.

"We've had a female driver who had a baby in the backseat, and the car seat, and underneath that car seat were 14 pounds of heroin," said Capt. Derrick Pendergrass who's over the Support Division that overseas the GHOST team.

Recovery Center staff says this is the new reality.

"The Southeast region is really just getting cranked up," said Rich Jones, the CEO of FAVOR Greenville, a recovery center.

FAVOR created a help hotline, one of the only local ones in the state, to decrease the number of people overdosing from buying the drugs that are being trafficked into the county.

"There's an overwhelming need and not enough space, so we created this call line initially to help people who were waiting to get into treatment," Jones said.

Eventually, they expanded the reach for the hotline because of the need, now helping anyone who has a question or problem related to drug use.

Jones says it's mostly family members who use the hotline reaching out for help, but in the past three months, they received 177 crisis calls from people who had overdosed. The center was able to help nearly 40 of those people with treatment.

"Just being really really relentless about the connection," Jones said.

FAVOR also started an emergency room response team who works with GHS. They visit people who show up to the emergency room from an overdose. However Jones says one of the biggest problems is still space. He says there's less than 100 detox beds in the state for the hundreds of people wanting treatment.

To reach the FAVOR hotline, you can call  (864) 430-1802.

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