As statistics in Madison County indicate, the impact of the illicit drug methamphetamine has devastated the community. In 2012, the county was labeled with a dubious distinction: No. 1 in the state for meth labs discovered and No. 2 in the country. Those numbers dropped in 2013, but the county still remained in the top seven in Indiana.
The numbers reflect a meth epidemic, as well as a commitment by prosecutors and law enforcement to battle the drug.
Neighborhoods with rundown or abandoned houses invite transient tenants to run illicit drug rings and produce dangerous substances like meth.
Because of the explosive probabilities that accompany cooking meth, property owners and insurance companies have no choice but to account for the dangers. Housing values fall, while insurance rates rise.
Meanwhile, a segment of the population dealing with addiction and legal issues creates an economic drain on a county already depressed for decades since the exodus of General Motors.
Local police and prosecutors believe they’re making a difference, and meth arrest numbers have dipped in recent months. After leading the state in lab seizures in 2012, Madison County’s number of lab busts dropped 36 percent in 2013.
According to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics, Indiana was No. 3, behind only Missouri and Tennessee in labs seized in 2012. While not every state has released 2013 numbers, Indiana figures to be near the top again, having more than 1,800 dismantled labs. The number has gone up every year since 2006, even as national meth arrest numbers have trended down.
To find meth labs, police officers rely heavily on tips from citizens and businesses. But thanks to legislation passed in the last decade, police have also benefited from a much-needed high-tech assist.
In 2011, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill requiring the state to participate in an e-tracking program for pseudoephedrine, typically used for the common cold. The law limited individual purchases of pseudoephedrine to 3.6 grams a day and 7.2 grams every 30 day.
If someone tries to purchase more than the designated amount, the sale is blocked, and at many stores, will be reported to the National Precursor Log Exchange, or NPLEx. Officers can access NPLEX’s website and see who has had purchases blocked. This often leads to the discovery of meth labs.
The system isn’t perfect. There are ways to make meth without using pseudoephedrine. But detectives say the tracking system has helped.
A COSTLY ADDICTION
Devoting so many resources to one problem is costly, preventing law enforcement from tackling other issues. Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings conservatively estimates that local court costs of meth cases amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Additionally, there’s the cost of cleaning up a home lab. A DTF detective estimated the average clean-up cost at $1,500 a lab.
Nicole Crawford, commander of the state police’s meth team, said the special equipment — breathing apparatus, chemical suits and other items — required to dismantle meth labs costs the state about $400,000 a year.
But the concerns aren’t limited to property damage
.County and state officials said that, more than anything, children of meth-using parents or guardians face acute neglect, with psychological implications.
“[Meth] is pervasive here,”said Beth Dickerson, case manager supervisor of Madison County’s Department of Child Services. Dickerson said meth takes precedence over everything else in a user’s life. Children of abusers might go days without proper supervision, living in the world of toxic meth labs and the litany of medical problems they can cause.
Additionally, one of the common side-effects of meth use is heightened sexual drive, which creates an increased possibility of sexual abuse of children, perpetrated by family, friends or complete strangers. Exposure to such a drug culture can lead to problems at school, as well as generational mental health issues.
“It’s a traumatic experience, too, when children have to be removed from one of these labs,” Dickerson said. “If it’s been manufactured in the home, there’s almost always contamination on the walls.
“In these cases, the child is immediately taken from their parents, transported to the hospital by ambulance, blood tested and showered at the hospital.
“They can’t take anything with them because the house is toxic. So if they have a favorite stuffed animal or their Playstation, if it’s a teen, they have to leave it behind.
”ISP meth team detective Nate Raney remembers working a case several years ago in Putnam County and finding meth in a child’s crib. Another time, in 2013, he helped dismantle a lab in a house where a woman in her 80s used an oxygen tank.
“All of us on the meth team have kids, and I think that’s one of the reasons they wanted us,” Raney said. “Does it make us mad? Yes.
“But I think you could ask any of these parents, they don’t want their kids there. But the power of the drug is so strong, they can’t say no. It’s like meth takes your soul.
”Despite such disheartening anecdotes, authorities believe the tide may be changing in the war on meth.
“The best resources we have are other people’s eyes and their willingness. I can check the databases all day, but we’re pretty powerless without the public’s help,” Raney said.
Report meth use To report suspected meth manufacturing or use, call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS or text INDYCS+message to CRIMES. Tips can be made anonymously. More information can be found at http://www.meth.in.gov. –