Arrested developments: A Buncombe County drug-arrest snapshot

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Drug crime in Buncombe County has, in some cases, mirrored statewide trends in the past decade. Arrests for the sale or manufacture of synthetic narcotics or other dangerous drugs have increased steadily in North Carolina. That syncs with what’s been happening in Buncombe County.

“The biggest threat on the drug front here in Buncombe County is methamphetamine and prescription pills,” says Michael Machak, supervisory special agent based in Asheville’s U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office.

In the 16 Western North Carolina counties covered by the Asheville post, “Methamphetamine is probably our No. 1 drug that we make arrests for at the DEA in Asheville,” says Machak.

One of the primary ingredients in producing methamphetamine is pseudoephedrine, which is found in Sudafed and other over-the-counter medications. According to Machak, “If [someone] is coming in multiple times to buy pseudoephedrine, it raises red flags. … As far as the production of meth in independent laboratories, those are some of the things that store owners, or pharmacists especially, look for. [But such purchases have] come down quite a bit because you’re now required to present ID,” as required by the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, he notes.

Arrests are also on the rise for prescription medications being sold illegally. “Prescription pills are really overtaking Western North Carolina, starting from the teenagers all the way up to adults,” Machak continues. One of the challenges in addressing this problem is that, unlike methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics, prescription pills are legal until circumstances change — such as theft or resale. It is the context of the pills that creates the crime, he explains.

A notable difference between Buncombe County and statewide trends has occurred in arrests for marijuana possession. The highest number of arrests was in 2008, followed by significant drops the next two years before the numbers leveled off. “Marijuana remains the same to all of us in law enforcement — it’s illegal,” says Machak.

When asked about the 2007 spike in Buncombe County’s arrests on possession of synthetic narcotics or other dangerous drugs, Machak did not recall an incident that would have caused the spike.

Sometimes statistics are an indicator of current events, but sometimes there can be a variance between the data and real life, Machak says. “Statistics fluctuate based on the agency’s resources that they have available to them, and to be honest, they also fluctuate based on who you’re catching.”

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