CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In two years, a state fund set up to help the victims of violent crimes has paid out $1.2 million to clean up West Virginia’s meth mess.
Last year, the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund distributed $849,146 for methamphetamine lab cleanup costs, up from $378,404 in 2012, according to a Charleston Gazette analysis of Court of Claims data.
Out-of-state landlords who own meth-contaminated properties in West Virginia received more than $100,000 of those payouts for cleanup expenses since January 2012. Payments went to property owners in Kansas City, Mo.; Surfside Beach, S.C.; Arlington, Va.; and Cincinnati.
West Virginia is the only state that reimburses property owners for meth lab cleanup costs through a crime victims compensation fund.
“Meth labs are having a substantial financial impact across the state,” said Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne. “The numbers are accelerating.”
In 1981, state lawmakers set up the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund to help “victims of crime, particularly violent crime.” The fund typically pays for crime victims’ medical and funeral expenses.
Six years ago, as meth labs began to proliferate in West Virginia, the Legislature passed a law that allows property owners to file claims with the state to help pay for meth cleanup.
Perdue said the drain on the Crime Victims Compensation Fund should alarm all West Virginians — even those in counties with no meth labs.
“There have been arguments represented this is a very localized problem,” Perdu said. “Irrespective of whether a county has meth labs or not, its citizens are losing the opportunity to access victims fund monies because it’s being depleted by meth lab claims. This is proof positive that it’s a statewide issue for taxpayers.”
The crime victims fund will only pay for cleanup expenses if landlords didn’t know that meth was being manufactured on their properties. The program’s purpose is to make rental properties livable again.
Initially, the fund paid $5,000 for cleanup costs. State lawmakers raised the reimbursement amount to $10,000 two years ago.
Since 2012, the fund has paid more than $668,000 directly to companies that specialize in meth cleanup, according to the Gazette’s analysis.
Simon Environmental, a Jackson County company, collected $423,845 for cleanup expenses — five times more than any other firm.
Global Environmental of Kearneysville was paid $81,526, followed by Astar Abatement of Sissonville ($56,495), Affordable Cleanup of Scott Depot ($54,139), and Meth Lab Cleanup LLC of Athol, Idaho ($35,612). Several other firms received smaller amounts.
The remaining meth lab payouts went to landlords, including 16 who live outside the state but own property in West Virginia. Out-of-state property owners and meth cleanup companies are eligible to receive money from the victims compensation fund.
To pay for the increase in meth lab claims, the Court of Claims has tapped a reserve fund for the past several years. The reserve account was set up to pay out injury claims after a catastrophic event, such as a school shooting or terrorist attack.
Because of meth lab claims, the reserve fund has dropped from $6 million to $3 million during the past four years.
West Virginia law enforcement authorities seized 533 meth labs last year, nearly double the 288 labs found in 2012. Police busted meth labs in 45 of West Virginia’s 55 counties.
The Crime Victims Compensation Fund is on pace to pay more than $1 million on 200 claims during the current fiscal year, which ends in July.
“In so much as the cleanup costs are going up and the number of labs are going up, it’s only logical to assume that other costs, like children going to foster care and hospitalizations, also are going up,” Perdue said.
Perdue supports legislation (SB6) designed to reduce meth labs and their cleanup costs. The bill would require people to secure a prescription before they could buy most cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient sold under brand names such as Sudafed and Claritin-D.
The legislation exempts so-called “tamper-resistant” pseudoephedrine products — Zephrex-D and Nexafed — which can’t easily be converted to meth.
The Senate Health and Human Resources Committee advanced the bill last week, and the Senate Judiciary Committee could take up the legislation within days.
Drug industry lobbyists oppose the bill, saying it would inconvenience consumers and drive up health-care costs.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse has recommended that state legislators pass a pseudoephedrine prescription law. The panel released its final report last month. Council members gave more votes to the prescription requirement than any other proposal designed to curb substance abuse in West Virginia.