02/04/04 — Methamphetamine a growing problem

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Methamphetamine a growing problem

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on February 4, 2004 2:02 PM

Wayne County is starting to see the spread of an illegal drug that's both dangerous to users and to the community, a sheriff's officer told the county commissioners Tuesday.

Maj. Ray Smith said his office is alarmed by the rapid increase of methamphetamine, a drug that's more addictive than crack cocaine.

The drug was first seen in California and "has spread across the country like wildfire," Smith said. "I assure you, it's coming, and we'll have to deal with it."

The numbers back Smith's claim.

Prior to 2001, the Wayne County Drug Squad had only seized around $11,200 worth of the drug. In the past three years, it has seized nearly $760,000 worth.

Also, the drug squad had never found a methamphetamine lab here before 2003. But it found four labs last year and has already uncovered two so far in 2004.

"We're receiving two to three reports a week about the locations of meth labs," he said.

The drug is known by the street names of meth, gas, ice, crank, crystal meth and glass. In the western United States, it is sometimes called the "housewife drug," due to its popularity among middle-aged women. It's generally in a powder or rock form and can be smoked, snorted, injected or eaten.

A main component of the drug is ephedrine, which is found in many sinus medicines such as Sudafed.

It is a powerful stimulant, Smith said, and many people try it to boost their energy. Used in small doses, it gives users a high alert or nervous feeling similar to having ingested a large amount of caffeine.

But the drug can be addictive from the first use, he added. As people use more and more, they can go up to 15 days without sleep, lose drastic amounts of weight, experience uncontrollable twitching, paranoia and hallucinations.

Many addicts have shown violent and unpredictable behavior, much of which has been directed at children, Smith said.

The Sheriff's Office is especially concerned about the clandestine labs that are being set up to make the drug, he said. The process typically is done in kitchens but can be done in smaller spaces. One lab found last year was in the back of an SUV on U.S. 70, he said. Often, hotel rooms are used.

The manufacturing process involves several flammable materials, some of which react explosively with water, he said. Also, it can create hazardous byproducts, including phosphine, an odorless, deadly gas.

The labs pose several risks to the community, he said. Children are endangered by their proximity to people using the drug. Firefighters or paramedics who respond to emergencies may be running into homes with toxic or dangerous materials that they would not be expecting. Hazardous wastes left in hotel rooms could affect people using those rooms later. And law enforcement officers might run into booby traps set up by paranoid users.

The commissioners plan to ask their legislators to increase criminal penalties for people caught manufacturing or using methamphetamine.