More than three decades after then President Richard Nixon announced the U.S. was fighting a war on drugs, the battle may finally be over with America on the losing side.
"A few years ago you used to hear people talk about the war on drugs," said Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols. "You don't really hear that much anymore. We lost the war on drugs years ago."
Not that the Newton County Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement agencies having given up. Instead they have changed tactics and expectations.
"Drugs are characterized as a law enforcement problem, but they are really a society problem," Nichols said. "Society has to change as a whole before we can have progress with drugs."
To this end, the NCSO now focuses on prevention as a means to stifle drugs' popularity. Past initiatives have focused on reforming drug addicts, a process Nichols is very skeptical of.
"Curing folks is just not happening," Nichols said. "In my opinion, prevention is the key. We do all that we can to educate."
Along with the ever popular D.A.R.E. program, the NCSO has also partnered with several other groups including the Boy Scouts of America to educate children on the perils of drugs.
Even the average adult does not understand how ingrained drugs are in every aspect of crime in the U.S. Nichols estimates 50 to 70 percent of the inmates in the Newton County Jail are incarnated as a direct or indirect result of drugs.
"They don't realize that the burglary of their house was to pay for drugs or that their wreck was caused by a person on drugs or their ID theft goes to fund drugs," he said.
To combat the problem in a more traditional way, the NCSO and the Covington Police Department recently formed the Covington/Newton County Special Investigations Unit. Major drug busts are the unit's main task. The NCSO, the CPD and the SIU all additionally work hand in hand with federal agencies to combat the global problem.
"We always have and obviously will continue to work with other agencies including federal agencies, which is key," Nichols said. "Drugs are not a local problem or an individual crime."
Much of the product is imported from Mexico or simply brought down the interstate from Atlanta. Nichols said Atlanta is one of the three drug centers in the U.S. resulting in higher drug rates for many of the Metro Atlanta counties.
"Comparatively we are not any higher or lower than other Metro Atlanta counties," Nichols said.
To illustrate his point, Nichols said there has not been a meth lab bust in Newton County in years, yet meth is the biggest drug in the county.
"Meth is the most physically and psychologically addictive drug I have ever seen," Nichols said. "And it is cheap and readily available."
SIU Special Agent Chris Smith believes meth is the most dangerous drug on the street not just because of the physical effects, but also for its overall effect on society.
"Most of them (users) live in unsanitary means," Smith said. "They don't take much pride in cleaning house. Sometimes you see little children having to live in those conditions, and it affects us as law enforcement officers. I have children and I can't comprehend how a person can do that to their child."
The effects of meth are also literally costing taxpayers everyday. Nichols said many of the jail's 14 infirmary beds are constantly occupied by meth addicts who must be treated for a variety of conditions relating to their drug use. Meth mouth, a side effect of meth use that results in users losing their teeth, is just one example of the physical effects that must be treated once the user is incarcerated.
"And the cost for that is passed on to the taxpayers," Nichols said. "We have a drastic increase in the medical costs in the past 20 years; a lot of which is related to drugs."
Meth is not the only drug hounding local law enforcement. Cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs are also very prevalent in the county, Smith said. Addicts are able to obtain prescription drugs in variety of ways including stealing the drugs from a pharmacy, forging prescriptions and buying the drugs from patients with legal prescriptions.
When junkies can not get a fix from conventional drugs, Nichols said they often turn to everyday items like paint, paint thinners and mothballs.
"Drug abusers are very innovative," Nichols said. "Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to things people abuse to get high."
That originality is just one of the many reasons the sheriff believes the war on drugs, in its past incarnations, failed miserably.
"The whole system is being swamped by the drug problem," Nichols said. "I have never seen it any worse than it is right now. Does that mean it is getting worse? I don't know, but maybe."