Comments Off on Prescription drug crackdown has locals turning to meth

More methamphetamine lab busts have happened in St. Lucie County so far this year than in Martin and Indian River counties combined, but the highly addictive and dangerous drug does not appear to be overwhelming law enforcement resources on the Treasure Coast.

Eleven meth lab busts have been reported in St. Lucie County this year. That compares with two in Martin County and three in Indian River County, according to recent interviews with investigators.

In Port St. Lucie, where police have been involved in three meth lab busts, police Sgt. Charlie Lumpkin said he only began hearing about methamphetamine in the last nine to 12 months.

“Clearly, we’re dealing with the meth situation now,” Lumpkin said.

Lumpkin said he and another detective recently returned from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-sponsored school in Virginia involving the investigation of clandestine labs, particularly meth labs.

He said there are four common methods of meth-making, with the “shake and bake” or “one pot” method being most common. That method does not require a lot of containers, but it’s also one of — if not the — most dangerous of methods because of the potential for fire and explosions.

Lumpkin and St. Lucie County sheriff’s Lt. Douglas Hardie, whose agency has been involved in eight meth lab busts this year, said with crackdowns on prescription pills, such as oxycodone, some drug users have turned to meth.

“If you can’t get your pills and you want to get high, you go buy pseudoephedrine, cook up a little pot of meth and get high,” Hardie said.

Pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter medication that is tracked, is a key meth ingredient.

“What we see is a scratch on the surface of what really is going on,” Lumpkin said. “I can assure you that it’s being made and it’s just not on our radar.”

In Martin County this year, there’s been just a single meth lab incident, a “split lab” with one part in Stuart and another in a wooded area in the unincorporated county.

“We have maintained our number of meth labs or meth arrests,” Martin sheriff’s Detective Bill Jaques said. “They haven’t increased, but they do have a potential to increase. There’s a strong potential they could increase over the next few years.”

Jaques said signs that a home could be a meth lab include an odor, blister packs from pseudoephedrine packaging, surgical tubing and 32-ounce Gatorade bottles.

“If you find a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle with a crystal type material inside or a hose sticking out of it, that would be a key indicator,” Jaques said.

Lumpkin said it might not be obvious that meth is being made in a home.

“It’s not like these big tubes laying around and these big cooking pots and things like that,” Lumpkin said. “It may be disorderly and kind of nasty but it’s not going to be what you would picture … Other than seeing a weird-looking liquid inside of a clear container and some other things that may be a little weird, you would never think.”

In Indian River County, the Sheriff’s Office this year has been involved in three meth labs, all of which were not particularly large, said Sgt. Thom Raulen, sheriff’s spokesman.

“I would not say that we have a methamphetamine problem,” Raulen said. “I would say that as with any illegal drug, we’re concerned about it and we take appropriate enforcement action when an investigation leads in that direction.”

Raulen said meth might not be gaining popularity in his agency’s jurisdiction because making it can be treacherous.

“There’s hazards in having a grow house and growing marijuana, there’s hazards in cooking cocaine to turn it into crack cocaine,” he said. “But those don’t compare to the dangers of cooking methamphetamine, the chemicals that are involved are so volatile and so toxic.”



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