Tale of two counties

09/23/2007 12:01 AM

09/25/2007 1:46 PM

Lexington and Richland counties are close in geography but far apart in their drug problems.

Lexington County has far more meth abusers and illegal home meth labs than Richland County does. Lexington County law officers have uncovered almost 200 meth labs in recent years, while Richland County officials have found only a handful.

But Richland has far more users of crack and powered cocaine, law enforcement officials say.

Both counties experience much drug-driven crime, said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

“A drug addict, regardless of what drug it is, is going to reach a point where he’s so desperate, he’ll do anything,” he said. “This includes everything from forging checks all the way to murder.”

Echoing national authorities, Lott said an area’s demographics determine the prevalent drug.

“In Lexington County, meth is the drug of choice of white, rural people,” Lott said. “In Richland, crack (a potent, rock form of cocaine) tends to be used in the African-American community, and powdered cocaine is more widely used by urban and suburban whites.”

Lott and Lexington Sheriff James Metts agree that meth and cocaine spawn different kinds of spinoff crimes.

Metts said Lexington probably experiences fewer violent crimes than Richland because meth addicts and cooks, although paranoid, usually commit property crimes to get money.

“They are committing crimes where they can get things to trade or sell to buy meth — burglaries, car break-ins, that sort of thing,” Metts said.

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese said Richland County experiences another kind of violence associated with cocaine and gangs: dealers trying to rob and kill each other for turf and profit.

“They think dope dealers have a lot of money,” Giese said.

Metts said Lexington’s problems with meth don’t mean it is immune from cocaine-driven violence. Earlier this month, he noted, a Lexington jury returned a death verdict against a crack dealer who shot a security guard in the head and set him on fire.

— John Monk

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