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Meth Madness

Meth Madness
Meth Madness
Meth runners sometimes leave necessary ingredients and/or equipment alongside a road to be picked up and transported to a cook site. (Police photo)

Second in a four-part series
Along with law enforcement, a group of concerned citizens has targeted methamphetamine as a threat to society that simply won’t be tolerated in Harrison County. They are looking for ways to stop the spread of this illicit, deadly drug, any way possible, including spreading the word.
Three recent deaths in Harrison County have been blamed on methamphetamine and a fourth person nearly died. The number of clandestine meth lab busts are up and so are drug arrests.
‘Methamphetamine originated on the West Coast and is sweeping to the East Coast,’ said Harrison County Prosecutor Dennis Byrd. ‘We’re in an area that is in the midst of that.’
So it was a given that Harrison County would respond when the Lilly Endowment, through the Indiana Society of United Ways, challenged communities to identify problems and promised money to help fix those ailments.
‘Very quickly the rising plague of methamphetamine rose to the top of our list,’ said Steve Gilliland, director of the Harrison County Community Foundation, one of five agencies that first met here in March to take on the challenge.
Those agencies shared in the cost of the local match, $7,000, to obtain a $35,000 planning grant from Lilly. Besides the Foundation, the groups include Metro United Way, the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, Blue River Services and the Indiana Dept. of Child Services (formerly the child welfare department).
For more information on the problems and the drug itself, the core group invited others familiar with meth to meet two weeks ago. They included representatives of law enforcement, both adult criminal and juvenile court systems, the schools, county extension, and others that serve the youth.
‘We called in these local experts to tell us what is going on in Harrison County relating to meth,’ Gilliland said.
The group will likely seek advice from officials in other areas who are more expert in dealing with the meth crisis.
Barbara Bridgewater, community director for Metro United Way of Southern Indiana, said the future of Harrison County depends on ridding the area of meth, a drug that is especially dangerous for the innocent children who live in homes where meth is cooked.
‘The dangers to our children just blew me away,’ she said. ‘It’s not that they’re just getting a little of it; their bodies become toxic. It can affect the brain, their ability to learn, to reason, and eventually to earn a living.
‘It’s overwhelming,’ Bridgewater said.
The hope is to eventually ‘make it so disagreeable, so impossible, unpleasant, uncomfortable, so hard to get,’ that meth addicts and cooks will move on. ‘How do we do it?’ she asked, rhetorically. ‘We don’t really know yet.
‘We can chase them out; then the next county can do what we did.’
In the meantime, the group is formulating plans to educate the public which in turn can tip police to suspected meth activities and get legislation passed to restrict the over-the-counter sale of cold medications that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Those are essential elements in the manufacture of meth.
Indiana State Police Trooper Jackie Smith, one of three troopers assigned to a Methamphetamine Investigative Unit covering Harrison, Floyd, Washington, Clark and Scott counties, said such community involvement is a step in the right direction.
‘I wish some other counties would get on board like that,’ he said, adding that while persons should never get directly involved in breaking up a meth lab because of the danger, relaying information to police would be valuable.
The number for the ISP Meth Hotline is 1-800-453-4756, or contact the sheriff’s department at 738-2195 and ask for Chief Gary Gilley to be paged. Callers need not leave their names.
Some concerned citizens believe that Indiana Senate Bill 444, now under consideration in the legislature in Indianapolis, would curb the manufacture of methamphetamine because it would restrict sales of cold medications containing ephedrine to pharmacies, which would identify and record the purchases. Should that bill fail to pass, Byrd and others said the focus group here will try to get a county ordinance passed, here and in neighboring communities.
A meth user and cook, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said restricting the sale of cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine would slow down the manufacture. But a black market would develop for the distribution of such products, or a new substance would be discovered to make meth. However, those claims aren’t believable, several knowledgeable persons said. News accounts from other areas, especially Oklahoma, show that making cold medications available only through a pharmacist, who checks IDs and records sales, has practically driven meth labs from the state.
Once offenders have been apprehended and convicted, prosecutor Byrd said he has two goals when dealing with meth-related offenders.
‘If they’re only a meth user and not cooking or selling meth, we try to hold those people in jail for 90 days to six months and then put them on probation and in treatment,’ Byrd said.
‘If you’re a meth cooker or dealer, we’re putting you in jail or prison for a number of years, followed by probation and treatment.’
One such cook and/or dealer is now doing 18 years in the Indiana Dept. of Corrections, Byrd said.
It is especially difficult to catch someone in the act of ‘cooking’ meth, said Chief Gilley, because the process takes only about four hours. By the time police investigate, obtain a search warrant and arrive at the scene, the labs shut down and the cooker can be gone, Gilley said.
Nevertheless, drug-related arrests are increasing, and that has led Byrd to obtain grant funds to pay a prosecutor full-time who will deal with such cases exclusively.
Last year, there were 91 drug related arrests, 27 of which were meth-related, Byrd said. The year before, 86 drug arrests were made, 19 of which were methamphetamine related.
The high costs of illicit drug use, especially methamphetamine, to society ranges far beyond the pocketbook. In some cases, it extracts the ultimate price: death.
‘Every addict eventually stops using,’ said Mothers Against Methamphetamine (MAD)’ in a 2002 publication concerning meth addiction.
‘It may be in the morgue, it may be in jail, it may be in the nursing home when the brain damage is so severe you can’t feed yourself.’
Addicts can return to a somewhat normal life, but it takes the brain 12 to 18 months to regain function, MAD said. ‘But the wiring is different now, and some of the damage is permanent.’
A person doesn’t have to be a user to suffer the effects of meth. Deadly fumes can be inhaled by someone near or downwind of a batch of meth cooking, or during the highly volatile cooking process a cook site can explode with deadly force, Gilley said.
The fumes can penetrate walls and furnishings at a cook site, and on the clothing and hair of children who live there. Small children are especially at risk.
For that reason, so far this year, 14 children in Harrison County have been removed from their homes to safeguard them from a number of dangers. Of those, the dangers to eight children were directly related to the manufacture or use of methamphetamine, according to James Miller, director of the Harrison County Dept. of Child Services.
Last year, 38 children were removed, 26 due to meth. In all of 2003, 59 children were moved to safety, but only two of those were directly linked to methamphetamine, Miller said.
The costs of the investigation and police surveillance that led to removing the children is paid by taxpayers, much of it through property taxes.
The costs of caring for those children in foster homes is covered by the taxpayers, much of it through property taxes.
The costs of treating medical meth problems those children have falls on the taxpayer.
Gov. Mitch Daniels recently announced that Jim Payne, director of the Indiana Dept. of Child Services, is in the process of standardizing procedures for removing and protecting children exposed to meth production.
Cleaning up a meth lab, where the dope has been cooked, can be exorbitant. Such places are hazardous waste sites and those can be costly if not impossible to return to normal use. In some jurisdictions, meth sites have been cleaned and then the property is put on the auction block to recover the costs.
Prosecuting the offenders, keeping the convicted in jail or prison, and keeping tabs on those who are released in case they reoffend is a huge expense also. Those costs, too, are paid by the taxpayers, some in the form of property taxes.
Eventually, medical care for the indigent addicts comes into play, either emergency care or long-term. One meth addict in Harrison County recently spent days in the county hospital and nearly died, he said. Recovery from surgery and treatment took about 10 days. He had no insurance.
Gilley said even if a meth addict has medical insurance, the cost to the insurance company eventually drives up the cost of insurance for everyone else.
Sometimes methamphetamine use leads to crimes that may appear unrelated. At first.
For instance, Gilley said $150 can buy a gram of meth, enough to keep a person high for two or three days. To earn the money to support their addiction, meth users have turned to robbery, prostitution, cooking meth and/or dealing meth and making, acting or posing in pornographic films or pictures.
Next week: Face to face with a recovering meth user.