Comments Off on Ohio Counties battle growing Methamphetamine trade

CLYDE –  Many have seen it, heard about it, or binge-watched it: “Breaking Bad,” the ratings juggernaut of a TV show, tells tales of a chemistry teacher who teams with a former student to make and sell crystal meth.

The popular show, whose final episode in 2013 drew 10.3 million viewers, is fiction, but the real world demand for meth is growing — and the number of arrests for meth-related crimes is on the rise in Sandusky County and Ohio.

“You can learn to cook meth online and make it at home. People are going to get high for cheap. It’s a matter of economics,” Clyde police Chief Bruce Gower said.B9317995418Z_1_20150710201009_000_G8DBAID32_1-0

Gower said meth labs are popping up around the area because the drug can be produced in small or large quantities, and its combination of a low price tag and high potency keeps addicts coming back for more.

Since February, four meth labs have been found in Clyde, and each one was connected with the others, Gower said.

As people read and see stories and videos of the arrests — with law-enforcement officials in hazmat gear searching through bottles, chemicals and run-down homes — many law-abiding citizens might wonder what meth is and why it is growing in popularity in this area.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth or crystal meth, is a white crystalline powder that can be dissolved in water or alcohol, swallowed, smoked, snorted or injected using needles.

Gower said the business of meth has increased through the years, starting with large-scale laboratories in the western United States and Mexico and then slowly migrating east as ways to manufacture it got easier.

One simple process of manufacturing, called the one-pot method, takes from 20 minutes to four hours depending on the size of the batch.

Despite the danger of mixing chemicals and creating a volatile potion, Gower said, sellers can manufacture meth in the woods, a motel, at a house, or even while driving. A couple arrested recently in Sandusky were operating a mobile meth lab in the back seat of their car, according to police.

A drug trend report from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said meth was on the rise from July 2014 to January 2015, including a spike in rural areas such as Bellevue and Clyde.

Ranking the ease of access for buying meth from 1 and 10, with 10 being the easiest, the 2014 report scored a 4 in urban areas and a 6 in rural areas. But those numbers changed dramatically in January 2015, when law enforcement gave big cities such as Toledo a score of 1 while rural areas jumped to a 10.

Jill DelGreco, a public information officer for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said the number of meth labs found in Sandusky County nearly doubled, from four in 2014 to seven so far this year.

Meth labs are tracked by the attorney general’s office from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 each year.

“These only represent labs that BCI assisted with or were reported to us by local agencies. Not all agencies report, so the numbers are likely higher,” DelGreco said.

Statewide, DelGreco said, seven years of data show the meth problem is growing.

In 2005, law enforcement reported 444 meth labs were found in Ohio. In 2014, 1,003 were found. Through July 2015, DelGreco said, state law enforcement agencies have reported 547 labs.

Buying and making meth

The materials to produce meth are relatively easy to obtain, with most coming from pharmacies and local stores, Gower said.

“You can learn how to cook meth online,” he said. “Some learn in prison.”

The equipment and ingredients for the one-pot method include pseudoephedrine or ephedrine tablets, some kind of solvent, and other easily purchased household items.

Using another method called “Shake and Bake,” all the ingredients are combined in a bottle, either an ordinary 2-liter pop bottle or 16- to 20-ounce bottles.

Ottawa County Common Pleas Judge Bruce Winters said meth is worse than heroin.

“Heroin is not as dangerous,” Winters said. “It terrifies me to think of meth coming into our community.”

Winters said Ottawa County has been dealing with heroin use, and he considers heroin users to be more thinkers than meth users.

“I’ve had a (meth) addict tell me they don’t care about anything. You could have a person holding a gun at your children, and a meth user will just ask them to move away from the TV,” Winters said.

“Meth is a less-forgiving drug. You can lose your teeth,” Winters continued. “A user said meth is the devil.”

Meth on wheels

Unlike most drugs, meth can be made on the road, Gower said.

“You can cook it in your back seat. If it catches on fire, they just throw it out the window,” he said.

Using a heating source in the back seat, manufacturers roll down the windows while combining the chemicals. Gower said the rolling meth lab allows dealers to conceal their whereabouts, making it difficult to find the moving meth labs.

“We have a website of people who are buying the materials. We know the people but are trying to figure out where they are,” Gower said.

When purchasing items for the one-pot cooking method, many meth dealers buy materials in small quantities at different locations, a tactic known as “smurfing.” That makes it harder for law-enforcement official to track them, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Being able to buy materials in one city and then drive to another for the manufacturing process helps dealers elude the law, officials say.

Meth’s effects and impact

The report by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said a gram of meth can sell for up to $180, with some buyers saying they can buy a tenth of a gram for $20.

The DEA compared the addictiveness of meth to alcohol and cocaine, with staggering results.

Using a group of 100 people, the DEA found that, if given a drink of alcohol once a day for three weeks, eight of the 100 will become addicted.

If a person snorts or ingests cocaine every day for three weeks, the DEA found, 14 of the 100 will become addicted.

Whether injecting or smoking meth, the DEA study found that, if used only twice, 90 of the 100 people would become addicted.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites several complications a user can expect if addicted to meth, including damage to the cardiovascular system, memory loss, malnutrition and severe dental problems. Meth use also can increase the risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

Ohio 3rd in the nation

Meth can cause a potent effect on the user, similar to cocaine and other stimulants, said Dave Posten, who oversees the meth program for the Ohio BCI.

“Ohio was No. 3 in the nation last year for meth-related seizures that were reported,” he said.

As meth became easier to produce and required only ordinary household items, a law was passed in 2005 to monitor the sale of nonprescription products containing pseudoephedrine. Retailers were required to keep those products behind the counter, and customers had to sign a logbook after each purchase.

After that law was enacted, the DEA reported a large drop-off in the number of meth labs found, from 10,693 in 2005 to 5,031 in 2006.

Posten said many meth users also are starting to use heroin, as the drugs are at the opposite ends of the spectrum for the kinds of highs they produce.

“Meth is stimulant and heroin is a depressant. They are using the other drug to come up or down from their other high,” Posten said.

Many busts and arrests have led to child endangerment charges against suspects, a horror that Gower said is all too familiar in the busts executed by Clyde police.

“Fumes can be toxic. I (also) worry about kids getting into it. We had a bust on Mechanic Street where needles were found next to a crib,” Gower said.

With toxic materials, needles, and fumes and stains getting into carpets, Gower said, kids are risking their lives by crawling around homes where there are meth labs. Gower said charges are often heightened in meth cases when children have been exposed to the chemicals.

The DEA reports that 35 percent of all children removed from homes with meth labs tested positive for the drug.

Drug task force sought

Because of the meth labs and heroin busts in Bellevue and Clyde, the county’s prosecutor, Tom Stierwalt, has applied for grant funding to create a drug task force.

In Ottawa County, Winters said, law enforcement agencies have come together to compile a drug task force to help curtail the heroin issue.

Currently, Sandusky County does not have a drug task force, which Gower said makes it more challenging to track this mobile drug.

“Everybody’s going to have to work together with money and manpower,” Gower said.

Posten said the drug will likely remain popular because of how accessible it can be, with users either making it themselves or buying their fix.

“We’re not seeing any shortage,” Posten said. “Other types of labs for hallucinogens are starting to pop up. It’s a two-pronged approach (to stopping the drug) of treatment and enforcement.”

http://www.thenews-messenger.com/story/news/crime/high-in-ohio/2015/07/10/counties-battle-growing-meth-trade/29995211/

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