Methamphetamine doesn’t discriminate. Like the cocaine and crack craze of the 1980s it’s the drug of choice by many in Benton and Washington counties. Most of the crystal meth is tracked in from Mexico with a purity level of 95% to 100%, according to Tommy Flowers, resident agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Flowers was one five panelists presenting at The State of Meth luncheon in Rogers on Friday (Oct. 31).
“Tighter regulation over the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine over the past five years has limited the number of local labs cooking meth, but there is still anywhere from 50 pounds to 100 pounds of it moving around the region daily,” Flowers said, proclaiming it the drug of choice in the region today.
He said the local street value of meth today is about $20,000 a pound, because it comes out of Mexico where it’s $6,000 a pound. The further from the border the more expensive it is.
Chad Brown, board member of the local drug task force, said the lucrative economics around distributing meth in addition to the powerful addiction of users mount a strong resistance, which is why so much effort is given to prevention. He said a 98% addiction rate of first time users is also an eye-opener because unlike other drugs, there are no casual meth users.
Michael Poore, superintendent of Bentonville Public Schools, was also a panelist at the Benton County Drug Task luncheon. Children enrolled in schools whose parents use meth or moms who used while pregnant require more services and suffer other learning challenges at an added cost to schools and ultimately taxpayers, he said.
A social worker recently informed him of a local kindergarden student whose parents used meth in the home. The child was neglected, dirty and troubled by the fights she witnessed between the parents. Poore said the five-year-old worried because her mom slept all the time and she liked it went her daddy went a way because the mom was happier.
Poore said local schools promote prevention and this week it paid off when a local middle school student found 70 pills in a ziplock bag hidden in a stack of chairs in her classroom.
“It could have been a catastrophe, but this child knew that wasn’t right and told an adult. The school is investigating the matter,” Poore said.
Doug Sarver, a minister of global missions at Cross Church and a panel member, said there is also a financial burden on the church and other nonprofits in the region because of the drug trade and abuse.
“In a sense, it’s a tax on the nonusers and productive circles of society,” he added.
Sarver shared a personal story of his own addiction to cocaine 30 years ago, a habit he said was $3,000 a week then, equal to about $100,000 now. He was introduced to drugs in the seventh grade, but managed to establish a professional career with fast-food chain Sonic as head of the regional advertising coop and a franchise owner.
“Just 25% of users are visible and on skid row, and 75% of meth users look like us in the room. They manage to hide their addiction like I did for a few years. But there is an impact on the society at large in the forms of higher work absenteeism and higher levels of work-related injuries,” Sarver said.
He said users also take a huge toll on their families, stealing from them to feed their growing habit. The one thing he knows for sure is that users can’t be rehabilitated until they themselves want it. For him it took six years to get there.
Many meth users won’t have six years, because the average life expectancy for heavy users is five years, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Kim Umber, secretary of the DFBC, said that stat proved to be true for her own daughter who died in 2006 from five years of meth abuse.
Benton County Prosecutor Elector Nathan Smith, also a panel member, said unlike other drugs, meth can alter the chemistry in the brain which can lead to acts of violence that the person would not have normally committed. Smith said there is no nook or cranny in this region where drugs can’t find a way in. His parents who live in a more affluent Bentonville neighborhood had an incident where five adults were found manufacturing meth in a $300,000 home. He said there also is a strong correlation between crimes and meth use, because the costs of using can run out of control after a while.
Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson, also a panel member, agreed with Smith. Simpson said the majority of all crimes have some connection to drug use.
“If not directly related, you don’t have to look far to find the connection. Many times it starts with shoplifting and car break-ins. We are seeing more ‘smash and grab’ car break-ins, which come in cycles. Nine out of ten times they commit these crimes hoping to get the money they need for their next hit,” Simpson said.
The local drug force spent the entire month of October presenting drug prevention programs to 4,000 middle-school children in the area. Formerly part of the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce, the Benton County Drug Force has recently had to reinvent itself as an independent entity and advocacy group.
Past president Chad Brown explained that the federal funding expired which had provided the Rogers-Lowell Chamber the ability to operate the program for the past decade.
“We are working to grow our membership and have realigned with the Boys and Girls Clubs, where the real battle has to be fought. Teaching awareness is something we all can do,” Brown said.
Flowers said meth manufacturing is on the decline locally but use is still up.
Another issue Flowers worries will befall the region in the next year or so is a rise in heroin use, which is a growing problem on college campuses and in other southern cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham. He said the resurgence in heroin is coming from college kids and adults who have become addicted to prescription pain killers that they might have been prescribed or took from a parent’s medicine cabinets.
With the recent crackdown by doctors prescribing these drugs, addicted users have sought out cheaper and more accessible highs by using heroin. Flowers said prescription pain killers cost about $1 per milligram and finding the supply is more difficult which creates the demand for heroin.
“Birmingham reported between 80 to 100 deaths last year from heroin overdoses,” Flowers said. “I see this as the next epidemic coming our way.”