A Beaufort doctor is on indefinite leave from his practice after a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Then, several months later, the DEA arrests 18 people in Beaufort County for conspiring to sell and distribute cocaine and prescription drugs.
It's still an active investigation. DEA officials and the U.S. Attorney's Office say they do expect additional arrests in the near future. With all of this going on, Sheriff P.J. Tanner and Solicitor Duffie Stone weigh in on the drug situation in Beaufort County.
Tanner said that as the county has grown over the years, so has the drug problem and the kinds of drugs coming into the county.
"You could fill up this building, 20,000 square feet of building, on a day-to-day basis of drugs confiscated by law enforcement throughout the country, and there is still that much more coming in every day," said Tanner.
Tanner said with the increasing population comes more drugs.
"Sheriff McCutchin assigned me as the Drug Task Force commander in 1986 and 1986 was the first crack cocaine case that was made in Beaufort County," said Tanner. "We didn't even know what it was."
Now, of course, that's all changed.
"It's not uncommon to have multiple kilos of cocaine brought into the county," said Tanner.
So, how is it getting into Beaufort County?
"Today, most of your cocaine and most of your marijuana is coming out of Mexico," said Tanner. "The larger percentage, as large as 75 to 80 percent, is coming out of Mexico. The last cases we've made in the last couple of years, I'm talking about multi kilo cases, are coming out of Mexico and it's come by vehicle in hidden compartments."
Although drugs continue to be smuggled through the I-95 corridor, Tanner says it's not used as much as in years past mainly because of the increase in law enforcement presence along the interstate. Instead, he says, they're bringing drugs into the county using alternative routes like Hwy 46, 17 and 170.
While cocaine is still a popular drug, Tanner said the new drug of choice in the county is Roxy Blues, a prescription drug.
"The influx of Roxy Blues is similar to the influx we saw with crack cocaine in 1986. Once it hit the streets, it was like wildfire," said Tanner.
A tablet costs anywhere between $20 to $100, depending on the milligram and the availability. A gram of cocaine costs $80 to $100.
Although drugs may not be a top concern to many living and visiting the area, Stone says they should be a concern to everyone because of the wide-spread impact they have in the community.
"The people I see on a regular basis that are selling drugs are the same people who are shooting people in the street, the same people who are robbing people, the same people who are breaking into people's homes," said Stone.
Stone said it's important not to leave pain medicines and other prescription drugs in your bathroom cabinets at home because you could become a target. Even those you know and love could take those pills for themselves or even sell them.
To combat the drug problem countywide, the sheriff's office has had to increase the Drug Task Force. Tanner said that back in 1986, when he took over the task force, they had a total of four drug investigators, now there's well over a dozen.