Drug Abuse Trends in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in central-western Alabama, has an approximate population of 100,287. Additionally, the southern city is home to tens of thousands of students attending The University of Alabama, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College. Thus, the most common substances of abuse are similar to the substances abused most by college students. In Tuscaloosa, a majority of incidents the narcotics task force reports involve marijuana and alcohol. Yet, in 2017, the task force seized half as much marijuana as they did in 2016 and 12 times as much heroin.
Drug Abuse and the University of Alabama
On February 19, 2013, the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force (WANTF) raided dorms on- and off-campus, eventually arresting 63 students and 13 non-students on drug offenses. The 183 charges were primarily for marijuana, though cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms, and prescription pills were also confiscated. Today, the event is known as “the raid of 2013” and is indicative of the task force’s stated goals in reducing the presence and effects of drugs on campus.
Among 11 Alabama institutions of higher learning, UA reported more arrests than any other school between 2005 and 2010. In the city of Tuscaloosa, there are more arrests made annually for marijuana than in Birmingham (a city with 10 times the population).
Spice, also known as K2 or synthetic marijuana, quickly became a problem on campuses between 2014 and 2015. In one year, almost 8 pounds of spice was confiscated.
I call it potpourri with chemicals on it. We have a lot of overdoses. Young kids think that it’s not harmful, but it is. Most of the time young people, or even older people, don’t know what they’re smoking.
Because spice can be purchased legally, many assume it is safe – even when marked “Not For Human Consumption” on the packaging. In truth, the substance is highly toxic, made of a variety of harmful chemicals, and can lead to overdose and death.
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Increased Heroin Use in Tuscaloosa
Task force commander, Capt. Wayne Robertson, said in 2015 that his force would focus more on restricting the spread of heroin. The opioid epidemic left many Alabamans with an addiction to prescription opioids. Following crackdowns on painkillers, thousands turned to heroin (a cheaper, more potent alternative). While the seizures of marijuana dropped by half between 2016 and 2017, pharmaceutical seizures have increased four-fold and heroin confiscations increased twelve-fold.
Heroin has also been used as a “cutting agent” in ecstasy pills popular among college students. Injection use of the drug has led to an increase in Hepatitis C and HIV in the state. In early 2018, the state senate narrowly passed a bill out of committee that would open needle exchange programs. Though heavily contested in Alabama, needle exchange programs have been shown to reduce drug use by half. Also, data shows 80% go on to rehab services.
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Substance Abuse Statistics for Tuscaloosa
In 2017, the WANTF seized 426 grams of LSD; in 2016, they seized zero grams.
Northside High School in Tuscaloosa County has the highest rate of drug incidents per student in the state – 2.84% or 1 incident per 35 students.
Addiction Rehabs in Tuscaloosa
For Tuscaloosa’s residents and student population, recognizing a substance use disorder can be challenging. Many students live in cultures where binge drinking and marijuana use is normalized. Still, regardless of popular stereotypes, anyone can develop an addiction. Following the Affordable Care Act, substance abuse treatment became more widely available. For the Medicaid enrollees in the state of Alabama, this means greater access to addiction treatment services closer to home.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health, along with funds from the CURES block grant, oversees rehab centers throughout the state. These treatment centers offer a range of addiction treatment services, including:
- Adolescent services – outpatient and residential
- Withdrawal management (detox)
- Residential treatment
- Intensive outpatient rehab
- Outpatient drug rehab
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Co-occurring disorders for teens
- Women’s services (for pregnant women)