ST PETERSBURG — An overdose during the weekend and the discovery of a mobile home lab showcase a resurgent crime problem in Pinellas County: Methamphetamine activity, by one measure, has nearly doubled in the past six months.
Deputies discovered the overdose victim in the intersection of Alternate 19 and Klosterman Road and made three arrests in the discovery of the meth lab nearby, operating out of an abandoned trailer at 4720 Roberts Road.
Meth seizures submitted from Pinellas and Pasco counties for analysis by the Pinellas County Forensic Lab total 120 during the first six months of this year compared to 68 during the same period last year.
“We’re definitely tracking to be higher than last year,” said lab director Reta Newman.
Pinellas sheriff’s deputies confirm a rise in activity involving meth, a relatively easy-to-make narcotic that targets the central nervous system and is extremely difficult to quit, said Capt. Mark Baughman, sheriff’s narcotics nit commander.
“It’s not like cocaine or heroin where you’re dealing with a source country,” Baughman said. “You’re dealing with a group of people who know how to manufacture it and all the ingredients are legal.”
Cooking meth can create fires and explosions so addicts often take over abandoned buildings and homes to cook the product. Baughman said most users aren’t in the business for the money and are often their own best customers.
Pinellas’ dense population makes the meth problem particularity dangerous, distinct from areas elsewhere in Florida where people go into the woods to cook, Baughman said. Pinellas addicts move from hotel rooms and abandoned buildings often because they’re more likely to be seen and caught here.
Cooks are teaching others how to make the drug, which multiplies the problem, Baughman said.
“Once somebody gets good at making it … they’re willing to show other people how to make it,” he said. “Then they start popping up everywhere.”
Meth is a problem in all parts of the county, Baughman said, but more so in Pinellas Park.
In the city of St. Petersburg, meth activity is down significantly over last year, said city police Maj. Antonio Gilliam. In 2015, 24 grams of meth have been seized so far compared to 100.3 grams during the first six months of 2014.
“I don’t know if it’s less meth being produced, but were not seeing as much as other counties or jurisdictions,” Gilliam said.
Still, in a major bust in February that followed a month long investigation, Pinellas deputies raided a meth house and made five arrests at 2500 19th St. N in St. Petersburg. Baughman said the home was abandoned and had no running water.
Baughman said law enforcement relies on tips to tackle the problem and asked that people keep an eye open in their neighborhoods.
“There’s a number of ways to investigate it,” he said, “but I would say a lot of it is investigated based on complaints.”