Last in a series
Police are quick to warn of the dangers of a methamphetamine lab because volatile chemicals are used in the production of the illicit drug.
An engulfing blaze erupted Friday at the site of a meth lab shut down by police in March, one of the worst police said they have found here. The fire is still under investigation (see related story below).
Sometimes the dangers of meth aren’t so readily seen.
A few short years ago, not long before David Parnell survived a suicide attempt in 2003, he was strung out on methamphetamine. He’d been using the dangerous man-made drug nearly seven years.
This time, Parnell was in the midst of a full-blown case of ‘tweaking,’ the name used in some regions for meth addicts who haven’t slept for days, or eaten, and are trying to use enough meth to reach the level of euphoria, the high, they felt when they first started using the drug.
Parnell was highly agitated, paranoid, delusional and dangerous.
Tweaking, called geeking or geeked-up here, is the most dangerous stage of use for the user, medical personnel and law enforcement. And it can be deadly for people who don’t have any idea what’s coming.
In his paranoid state, Parnell believed anyone who came around the house was an undercover narcotics agent, especially the mailman. So Parnell, armed with the assault weapon he would later turn on himself, crouched behind the evergreen bushes in his front yard, waiting for the mailman to arrive. Parnell decided he shouldn’t shoot the mailman there; Parnell reasoned it would be too easy to connect the shooting to him. He decided to hide in a neighbor’s yard to throw off suspicion.
‘Thank God I never did do anything like that,’ Parnell said, speaking to a group assembled in the Harrison Circuit Courtroom on Tuesday morning, May 3. ‘That mailman never knew he was in danger.’
Parnell said, ‘The tweaker craves more meth, but no dosage will help re-create the euphoric high, which causes frustration and leads to unpredictablity and potential for violence.’
He believes that includes ‘road rage.’ A driver should ignore the upset driver, because he or she probably has a gun and they have and will be apt to use it again. ‘You don’t have to do anything,’ Parnell said. ‘All you’ve got to do is look at them. They may see something that’s not there and wind up shooting you.’
‘No matter what kind of road rage it is, do not antagonize that person,’ said Harrison County police chief Gary Gilley, agreeing with Parnell’s assessment.
The tweaker, said Gilley, can’t feel the high. ‘They smoke and they smoke and they smoke.
‘If you come along and you’re a cop, and you’re taking them to jail … they’ll do anything to keep from going. They are worse than any other human being because of the addiction; they are more apt to kill,’ Gilley said.
Methamphetamine use is so prevalent across much of the United States, Parnell said he can’t understand why there’s been no attention to the problem at the federal level. He believes meth has claimed more lives in this country than terrorists.
‘Ten times, hundreds of times more,’ Gilley added. ‘People have been dying on the West Coast for 30 years from meth.
‘I heard about crystal meth back then, but it didn’t mean anything to me.’
Since then meth has moved to the Midwest and beyond. Gilley said, ‘It was like a tidal wave that washed over the country.’
Gilley said, ‘The War on Terrorism has moved the War on Drugs to the back burner.’
Parnell said while rehabilitation is needed for addicts, the cooks and the dealers should get jail time as well.
‘They’ve got to pay for their crimes,’ Parnell said.
At the state level, steps are being taken to combat methamphetamine.
‘Methamphetamine abuse in Indiana has no boundaries,’ Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a recent announcement of initiatives planned to battle methamphetamine use. ‘Its effects are devastating to our families and children, our schools, neighborhoods and the environment. There is no overstating the damage this drug is inflicting to Indiana, and there is no step we can take that is too strong to combat this drug.’
The governor’s announcement included the opening of the Indiana Dept. of Correction’s new facility north of Kokomo. The Miami Correctional Facility is the first therapeutic correctional housing unit devoted to treating and providing rehabilitative programs to offenders with meth-related addiction.
The unit has 204 beds. ‘We need more,’ Gilley and others said.
Rehabilitation takes from 12 to 18 months, said Parnell, because of meth’s ‘battery acid’ affect on brain cells.
According to MAMA (Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine), that part of the brain that helps control emotions, including addictions, dies from the effects of meth, which commonly contains multiple caustic chemicals such as battery acid, kerosene, anhydrous ammonia and lye. The brain cells don’t grow back, but given time to heal ‘ 12 to 18 months ‘ the brain can usually learn a new path to compensate for the loss.
Some brain damage is likely to remain permanent, depending on how long and how much meth was used. ‘Most recovered addicts have a residual muscle spasm, a twitch in the corner of the eye, a tremble in the back of the throat, or chattering teeth are common,’ according to Dr. Mary F. Holley, who organized MAMA, a non-profit Christian outreach program, in 2002 in Alabama.
Rehabilitation center referrals are available at MAMA’s Web site, www.mamasite.net.
Indiana’s governor has announced some other initiatives as well:
A partnership with Indiana’s colleges and universities is being forged to help reduce the backlog of drug cases at state police drug-testing laboratories. Conducting the tests will also allow students to gain eperience in forensic science.
A new 70,000-square-foot state police lab has been opened in Indianapolis to help reduce the backlog of drug cases awaiting reports.
And Jim Payne, director of the Indiana Dept. of Child Services, will come up with standard procedures to be followed when removing and protecting children exposed to meth production.
That is extremely important. The community director of Metro United Way of Southern Indiana, Barbara Bridgewater, said the bodies of children who live in houses where meth is being made can become toxic. The house structure itself is a toxic waste site, and thus the children’s ability to learn, reason and eventually earn a living can be affected, she said.
‘It’s overwhelming,’ Bridgewater said.
Also, at the recent Legislative session in Indianapolis, lawmakers unanimously passed a law restricting the amount of cold medication containing ephedrine and/or pseudoephedrine ‘ a major component of methamphetamine ‘ a customer can buy and take other steps to secure the medication.
Indiana’s action comes on the heels of a similar, but somewhat stricter law enacted in Oklahoma, where meth labs were reportedly reduced by 70 percent after the law was enacted. In Oklahoma, cold medicines are classified as a scheduled drug that can only be dispensed by a pharmamist. Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, introduced the bill in the Indiana Senate, calling meth a ‘cancer on Hoosier communities.’
The bill, adopted on April 30, the last day of the session, will:
‘ Require stores without pharamacies to keep medicines with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in a locked case or behind a counter. To purchase the medicine, customers will have to ask for the pill, show identification and sign a log.
‘ Allow small retailers such as convenience stores to sell up to four tablets at a time. Stores that have three thefts of pills containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine within a month will have to keep the medicine behind a counter.
‘ Pharmacies may keep cold medicines within sight of the pharmacy counter so long as it is under surveillance 24 hours a day. Otherwise, the medication must be kept behind the counter or in a locked case. To make a purchase, customers must sign a log and show identification.
While law enforcement heralds the new law, no one is optimistic enough to think it will be the cure all to end all.
‘There will always be somewhere to get it,’ said a Corydon man, speaking anonymously. In part, that’s because, ‘The profit margin is humongous.’
Another Harrison County man who has cooked and used meth said the law will slow down production. But it won’t take long for a black market to develop for the ingredient found in some cold medications or for cooks to come up with a substitute ingredient.
How can a community help in the war on meth?
‘ Turn in a meth cooker.
‘Working with law enforcement is a key thing,’ Parnell said. ‘They can’t do it by themselves.’
And they can’t do it overnight.
‘We have done investigations that take up to a year,’ Gilley said. ‘There’s a huge threshold we have to meet before we can even go there or get a search warrant so we don’t violate somebody’s civil rights.’
Information regarding possible meth labs should be relayed to the Indiana State Police Meth Hotline, 1-800-453-4756, or the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. at 738-2195.
ISP Trooper Jackie Smith of the Methamphetamine Investigative Unit covering this and neighboring counties, said people should call police and never get directly involved in breaking up a meth lab because of the dangers.
‘ Return David Parnell to talk to students and communities. ‘We would like to see him at the other schools,’ Gilley said, referring to the three public high schools: Corydon, South Harrison and Lanesville.
By chance, North Harrison had scheduled Parnell to speak there at the same time a group, made up of representatives of non-profit and government service agencies, was organizing to help fight meth.
‘It almost seems ordained that this is the direction we go in, because everything has fallen into place,’ said Steve Gilliland, director of the Harrison County Community Foundation, another organizer of the group, 4Community Planning Partners, which has been funded with a Lilly Endowment grant.
The planning partners have chosen meth use as a problem that must be dealt with in Harrison County.
Gilliland said 4Community Planning Partners will meet May 24 to consider applicants to research and develop a plan of attack.