The manufacture and use of methamphetamine is not only on the rise in Bryan County, it is soaring, law enforcement officials say.
From December 2012 through July of this year, the Richmond Hill police department arrested 25 individuals involved in 11 separate cases relating to the drug and has about 16 more it is working on, according to Cpl. Susan Willis.
All the items needed to make meth are easily avaiable and legal to own. It is only when they are combined that it becomes illegal
Interim Pembroke Police Chief Stacy Strickland says he knows it is all around the city.
“We have had a few busts in the city of the mobile labs, (but) we have not found any stationary labs. But all around the perimeter of Pembroke, there have been labs that have actually been found. It is on the rise,” he said.
The Bryan County Sheriff’s Office has busted more than 25 labs cooking methamphetamine in the last 12 months.
“I think we have had 26 labs within the last year,” said Butch Ward of the sheriff’s office. “That is up.”
The shutdown of 15 of those labs and 42 arrests are credited to Larry Harris, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the narcotics unit.
“They make it in cars, motel rooms, anywhere you can fit a two-liter bottle into,” Harris said.
“They could be going down the road making this. It is very volatile if they don’t release the gasses at a certain time, and it will explode,” Richmond Hill Police Detective Doug Sahlburg said of the process known as “shake and bake.”
Police have found burn marks inside a vehicle at a traffic stop when meth has been manufactured in a vehicle.
“There have been little explosions where things went wrong,” Willis said. “We will take pieces of the kid’s car seats from the back seat and send them off for testing. They always come back positive. The children’s hair comes back positive and not like miniscule amounts; enough that they are high on it themselves. Basically they are killing brain cells.”
Easy to make
Despite the inherent dangers in the manufacturing of meth, and to those nearby, the process is not difficult; it only takes a few hours. Plus all the ingredients, which include Drano and brake fluid, are legal to purchase and own.
Only the purchase of medications containing Ephedrine, an ingredient found in products such as Sudafed and one of the main ingredients in methamphetamine, is monitored.
“They are only allowed to buy a certain amount. Once they go over that, they are reported in a log,” Sahlburg said.
The log contains records of multiple purchases, and unusual purchase patterns of products containing Ephedrine by one individual or members of the same family reported by the pharmacy is one method law enforcement uses to zero in on suspected meth manufacturers.
But just being noted in the log doesn’t necessarily stop multiple purchases.
“You will get people in the log at five different pharmacies on the same exact day,” Willis said.
And since not all pharmacies participate, as the reporting is not yet mandated by the state, the logs only go so far in stopping the manufacture of the drug.
And unlike the drug cartels which seek monetary gain for trafficking drugs, much of the methamphetamine manufactured is being made for personal use, according to Jack Frost of the Richmond Hill police department.
“They are really not selling it; that creates a two-fold problem in that it is leading them to do other crimes like theft and prostitution to fund it,” he said. “There are groups that get together to cook it. Each person is responsible of bringing one of the ingredients.”
Hard to quit
“The drug changes the user’s mental state,” Frost said. “They say a lot of it is the anticipation of what they are going to get after they make it. After a point they have fried their receptors enough that the drug doesn’t do it by itself. It is the anticipation as well.”
And while Frost doesn’t necessarily think meth is the biggest illegal drug problem these days, he does say it is getting worse.
“I think prescription pills are the biggest thing, even Xanax. I think that is becoming a bigger gateway drug than even marijuana is. Marijuana is prevalent everywhere, but a lot of these people who are using meth now, who would have told you five or six years ago they would have never thought of using it, are using it to crutch an opiate addiction that they got through pain medication,” he said.
The immediately destructive nature of meth concerns Willis.
“After the first time they try it, they are addicted to it. They stop eating, stop drinking, they stop doing anything that is healthy for them. They just fixate on the meth. Their appearance is not so much the drug doing that to them; it is more that they have just foregone any sort of hygiene,” she said. “A functional meth addict is very rare.”
“It is such a powerful drug I have taken children away from their mothers without the mom ever shedding a tear,” Frost said. “I am talking about a 5-month-old baby.”
Who is using it?
According to Frost, at one point 80 percent of the female population in the Bryan County jail was there for meth.
“Just after school was out this year, they had a 15-year-old girl they got on a traffic stop that had been shooting up,” Willis said. “She had been doing prescription pills.”
And while the use of the drug appears to know no boundaries demographic-wise, there are some observations that, at least for now, seem to fit use locally.
It is more common in north Bryan County and still predominantly a drug used by whites rather than blacks or Hispanics locally.
“Lower income white males,” Harris said. “You are going to run across everybody, but if you had to come up with a profile, that would be it.”
Arrests alone won’t solve the problem
“The reality of it is we can’t arrest the problem away. And that is not what we are here for,” Frost said.
“People should understand that this is their community, and even if it is a loved one, people have to understand that it is an addiction; that these are not the actions of my loved one anymore; these are the actions of an addict, someone who is being controlled by a substance, someone who doesn’t have anything they are going to put first in their life other than drugs. It is hard for a rational person to understand that, but it is the addiction.”
Symptoms of meth use mimic those of any other drug, Willis said.
“They have mood swings; they are secretive; money is missing; they will be unaccounted for, for periods of time. One thing with meth is they’ll get fidgety. If a person who is not normally fidgety and all of a sudden becomes so, that is a sign,” she said.
“They call it meth bugs, but their nerves are overstimulated. But I would say loss of appetite, rapid weight loss, staying up for extended periods of time, not paying attention to personal hygiene are all signs,” said Frost.
Ward said he thought crack cocaine was bad, but meth trumps that.
“It is a terrible drug, I don’t see it stopping, and it is getting worse,” he said.
“I know it is a bad drug; people have a real hard time with it. It is terrible. It is sickening is what it is. It is an absolutely terrible drug. The real terrible part is the children,” said Harris. “It is growing body by body.”