Stillwater News Press

October 4, 2012

Dealing with the meth problem

By Russell Hixson
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — He had been up for days and high on methamphetamine. Paranoia, a common side effect of coming down from the drug, and little sleep, began to set in.

He saw a man in his home trying to kill him, grabbed a gun and began blasting away. It wasn’t until he shot the intruder point blank in the chest that he realized it was a hallucination.

“He had a shootout with himself,” said Gregg Russell, a deputy with the Payne County Sheriff’s Department, recalling the case. Luckily, the man lived in a rural home and his bullets only harmed his house.

Hallucinations and paranoia are common for meth users, and in Payne County, there are a lot of them. Russell estimates approximately 70 percent of his calls involve meth. Much of the time, it is found in rural areas, Russell said, but that it can be found in all income levels and parts of the county.

“Meth is a problem everywhere,” Russell said. He explained the drug’s manufacture and use exploded in the early 2000s. But recently, heavy regulation of pseudoephedrine — a crucial ingredient in meth — has slowed production. Stores track those who purchase the decongestant and limit how many grams someone can buy each day and each month with some of the toughest pseudoephedrine laws in the country.

This all but did away with larger meth labs that use the “Nazi” or “Biker” method, which requires large amounts of pseudoephedrine and a different technique for big batches.

Russell said the “shake-n-bake” or “one pot” method in which cooks put the ingredients in a bottle and shake it up for a small, quick batch of meth is the norm today for many users and manufacturers. But cooking it this way poses dangers for the cook and anyone nearby.

Russell explained that cooking meth gives off a cocktail of acidic and toxic fumes that are poisonous or can cause burns. One pot method bottles also can build up with pressure and heat. If the plastic melts or the lid is screwed off at the wrong time, the hot, toxic contents can explode.

This happened several years ago to a man cooking meth in a car beside a 17-year-old driver, Russell said. The bottle exploded, causing both severe burns.

Bottles and other waste created during a cook is often discarded far away from the site to prevent it from being traced back to the maker. Russell said this often means toxic trash on county roads and ditches.

“One of my fears is that some kid will be walking down the road and kick one of those bottles causing a reaction,” Russell said.

Russell said one way to help fight meth would be to take pseudoephedrine legislation further by making it a schedule one drug. This would mean a doctor would have to prescribe it.

While large amounts pseudoephedrine can be difficult to get, Russell said all the ingredients to make a batch of meth can be found in a few minutes at stores for about $30, which makes it a frustrating problem. Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Spokesman Mark Woodward shed light on the meth problem law enforcement is battling statewide. He said that the state has seen a massive increase in one pot meth cooks sporadically in the state since 2008, mostly in the northeast quadrant of the state. Cooks in Tulsa, burdened by strict laws on meth ingredients, rediscovered the old one pot method that has been around for decades, Woodward said.

“Oklahoma County may see 10 or so one pot cases a year while Tulsa may see 450 to 500,”  Woodward said.

But that doesn’t mean the meth problem isn’t there. Woodward said central and western parts of the state, including Oklahoma City, are seeing large amounts of ice meth manufactured in and transported from Mexico. Woodward said the state is combating this, working sophisticated wire cases against large Hispanic trafficking groups. To combat locally produced meth, law enforcement is using sophisticated national tracking systems to follow purchases and meth convictions to block sales of meth ingredients at stores.

“Last year our system blocked 96,000 sales,” Woodward said. He said the state may consider making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug if meth production isn’t curbed.

While the public is well aware that meth is extremely harmful to the body, Woodward explained there are other side effects officials are trying to combat.

The average user’s age is 18 to 35.

“That is the prime age to have kids and the prime age to have young kids,” Woodward said. This creates what are known as “meth orphans.” The cooks and users often devote all their time and money to making and using drugs, leaving the children hungry and neglected. These kids are often put into foster care after their parents get busted.

This past year, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics created a Drug Endangered Children chapter in the state to help find safe environments for meth orphans.

Woodward said another problem is the homes themselves that meth cooks and users leave behind that could go up for sale or be rented. He said there are around 200,000 properties in Oklahoma where meth was cooked.

“How dangerous are these homes, who is testing them, who is making sure it is safe?” Woodward said.

“That is an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.”