State police have busted nine methamphetamine labs across New York so far this year, and about half of those highly explosive manufacturing operations have been discovered in Oneida County alone, authorities said.
As the number of known meth labs across the state peaked at 31 in 2010 – its highest point in five years – a similar blossoming of meth activity in the Mohawk Valley recently has local authorities feeling a bit concerned.
New laws passed in 2005 were supposed to diminish homemade labs by regulating over-the-counter drugs, such as Sudafed, that are crucial to making methamphetamine. Those pharmacy controls apparently worked for a while: Only three meth labs were discovered in Oneida and Herkimer counties between 2006 and 2009, state police said.
But individuals with their minds set on cooking meth have been finding ways to get around these restrictions, and six people already this year are facing criminal methamphetamine manufacturing charges in Oneida County.
“Statistically speaking, we’re seeing more cases of this activity throughout New York state, and we’re becoming much more aware of it in Oneida County now because methamphetamine is getting a stranglehold on the Central New York area,” said state police Troop D Capt. Frank Coots.
Explaining this recent rise in meth activity, however, isn’t so easy.
Western Oneida Co. a hotbed?
Of the six people currently facing meth-manufacturing charges, all have connections to areas in the western portion of Oneida County:
* Joshua Stimpson, 26, and Meagan Stimpson, 23, both of Sylvan Beach, were charged when components of a mobile meth lab were found stuffed in a duffel bag in their car during a traffic stop in February.
* Wallace Edick, 41, of Blossvale, and his acquaintance Kimberly Tudor, 22, were arrested in March after a meth lab was discovered – for the second time – inside a garage in Sylvan Beach.
* Randy Hallibaugh, 38, of Camden, was arrested in March after a meth lab was found in a garage in North Bay, just weeks after a small fire led police to discover an earlier meth lab at his Camden residence.
* Jarrott Marino, 29, of Camden, was charged following a flash fire at a Taberg residence last year that police believe was related to the highly flammable process of making meth.
While prosecutors aren’t yet ready to label the Sylvan Beach-Vienna area as a “hotbed” of meth activity, they do acknowledge that some of the people currently facing meth-related charges do appear to be familiar with each other.
And in Edick’s case, prosecutors believe he was making between $500 to $1,000 a week in meth sales after allegedly manufacturing the drug in his own makeshift labs.
“I think it’s safe to say that meth is being sold and used by people in Oneida County, and law enforcement has a much more heightened awareness of the drug in our county and is becoming more vigilant in being able to detect when someone is manufacturing, possessing or using the substance,” said Oneida County Assistant District Attorney Grant Garramone, who is prosecuting several of the pending meth cases.
Drug highly addictive
Meth use has gone down over the years, but Garramone speculated the drug’s highly addictive nature and euphoric high might explain why it occasionally spikes in use among certain areas.
“I think its newfound popularity is based on the spread of word of mouth, as friends tell other friends about using it,” Garramone said. “People are trying it and liking the reaction they’re getting from it, so they just keep pursuing that high.”
Long-term abuse of methamphetamine has serious consequences: aggressive behavior, paranoid delusions and rotting teeth known as “meth mouth.”
Tudor and the Stimpsons have admitted to using meth, and Tudor said during her guilty plea in Oneida County Court last week that it was difficult to remove herself from a relationship with Edick while he was manufacturing meth.
Prosecutors said they never really saw meth use in Oneida County until after Woodstock ’99 in Rome, and it was only a few years later that Herkimer County’s first meth lab was discovered by state police in 2002, state police said.
Oneida County had its first meth lab bust in 2003, when the number of labs across the state reached a high of 73. In 2004, seven meth labs were then discovered in Herkimer County, its highest number during any one year.
That was around the same time that former attorney Robert Moran Jr. was facing conspiracy charges for trafficking methamphetamine from Arizona to Oneida County in 2002 and 2003 to fuel his own personal addiction and sell to other local acquaintances. Moran pleaded guilty, and has since been released from prison.
Meth activity in Herkimer County has gone down since police busted more than a half-dozen labs across the county, including a lab at an apartment building in Ilion just a few houses down from the Remington Elementary School.
State police haven’t discovered any meth labs in Herkimer County over the past several years, and police believe more education by law enforcement has helped them detect signs of meth activity before it is allowed to settle in.
“We’re more aware through our training and experience to know what to look for in terms of warning signs, its ingredients, how its manufactured and distributed, and that’s helped us step up our investigations,” said Herkimer village police Investigator Jeff Crim.
Those educational efforts still continue, and earlier this month on April 12 nearly 200 members of law enforcement, fire departments and social services met for a training seminar at the Maynard Fire Department in Marcy sponsored by state police and the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Are current laws sufficient?
Federal laws also made it more difficult for meth producers to buy over-the-counter ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products – like cough, cold and allergy medicines – that are critical to manufacturing meth.
Now, anyone who buys those items must show ID and sign a log book at pharmacies or other businesses that limits how much can be bought within a month. While successful at first, meth producers have learned to get around those restrictions by using “smurfers” who go from store to store buying small amounts of the necessary drugs.
Other states, like Mississippi and Oregon, already have passed laws that now require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, and New York state legislators haven’t yet ruled out that possibility here in the future.
State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R- Rome, on Friday said he would like to review that option to determine whether it would be helpful to countering meth activity without inconveniencing innocent people who might immediately need such medications, perhaps for late-night sinus congestion.
“The criminal mind will always find a way to get around the law and to profit criminally, so we’ve always got to be one step ahead of them,” Griffo said. “But we also have to balance that against a consumer who has an immediate need for the medication and won’t have access because they have to wait for a prescription.”