Although prescription pills may still be the drug of choice among many users and dealers in this area, Sheriff Patrick Ray said the manufacture and use of methamphetamine is on the rise again based upon the discoveries of meth labs that the sheriff's department has made in recent months and the arrests that have followed.
In a recent interview with WJLE, Sheriff Ray talked about the growing meth problem and how the public can be of help to law enforcement. The following is a question and answer report from that interview:
Q: Sheriff Ray, what is the drug of choice among illegal users and dealers in DeKalb County?
A: "Drug users' drug of choice within the county is still prescription drugs but methamphetamine is working it's way back to the top here and across the state. For example in the year 2009, there were 1,322 meth labs statewide. In the year 2010 there were 1,969. Just in January and February this year, we're already seeing an increase from last year during January and February so there's no telling what the total count will be this year."
Q: Compare methamphetamine to cocaine?
A: "Methamphetamine is close to what cocaine is. Cocaine is more of a rich man's drug. One thing that methamphetamine does that cocaine doesn't is make your high last longer. Where cocaine might last an hour and a half, methamphetamine will last for hours. It is cheaper and it's easier to find than cocaine. You actually have to find a dealer that does cocaine. The purity of the methamphetamine is more than the cocaine"
Q: How potent is methamphetamine?
A: "A lot of people will get hooked on methamphetamine, especially women trying to lose weight. If a woman wants to lose weight quick and if they ever try meth, many times they're hooked and can't come back off it. You'll see a lot of people who had some kind of drug habit, maybe a prescription drug habit, who had a buddy doing methamphetamine so they tried it because of their friend and became hooked on it themselves. Most of the time the only other drug we find from a meth addict, other than meth, is marijuana. The reason for that is anyone on meth may stay awake for days at a time and never sleep. But when they get ready to crash or sleep, they'll smoke that marijuana and it'll bring them back down because marijuana is a depressant."
Q: What other affects does methamphetamine have on people such as paranoia?
A: "We have received calls from people on methamphetamine who think we're watching them or that we're in black ninja suits and shooting red lasers through their windows. These are the kinds of people law enforcement often deal with who are a threat because we don't know what's going through their mind. When we go up and knock on a door to maybe serve a civil paper on them, they might think we're there to harm them. It can be a dangerous situation."
Q: Explain how methamphetamine is made
A: "Most everything that is used for meth ingredients can be bought from any retail store including red devil lye or draino, pseudoephedrine, tubing, electrical tape, lithium batteries, and cold packs. Those are just a few of the things that are used. With the lithium batteries, they'll remove the lithium strip, cut it up in pieces, and then place it in a bottle to produce a chemical reaction resulting in heat. That way a heat source, such as a stove eye burner, is not needed. Around here, we find they're using cold packs in the cooking of meth, which they can easily obtain from a medical department of a retail store. Ninety nine percent of these things can be bought at any of our local retail stores."
Q: State laws are in place to help control the sale of pseudoephedrine, so how are the makers of meth, able to get around this law?
A: " In 2005, the state passed the methamphetamine drug act where you have to show a photo ID before purchasing pseudoephedrine. They (store clerks) take down that information. But in an effort to get around this, many meth makers are now engaging in what is called "smurfing". For example, there may be five or six people in a group who will go into a certain store and each will buy their maximum quantity of pseudoephedrine. Then they will go to another store and do the same thing. That's done a lot by people who either cook or use methamphetamine. Sometimes the cook will actually share a part of his batch of meth with these people so they will continue to help him obtain the pseudoephedrine. Some stores also have restrictions on lithium batteries. They'll only sell one person just so many batteries at one time. We encourage all stores to do that. I think it's everyone's responsibility to help control this."
Q: Can you talk a little about the "shake and bake" meth labs?
A: "The new shake and bake method is not like the red phosphorus method. The shake and bake is real easy and quick to do. You don't need as many of the ingredients as the red phosphorus labs and the shake and bake can actually be done in an automobile while driving down the road, with only one or two people in the back seat making the meth. What they will often do to keep law enforcement officers from finding their discarded materials is they'll throw them out the car window. If somebody comes by and throws out something like this in your front yard, leave it there and call us because it could be toxic or explosive. Within the last couple of weeks we've had some people to call the jail wanting us to come and look at things they've found. We encourage people not to bring those things to the jail. The reason for that is, some of the layered liquid you'll see will be in mason jars or some of it might be in plastic bottles. That stuff settles in the bottom. Of course, there's pressure inside of those cans and bottles so when you agitate it by hauling it down the road and it bouncing around because of the movement of the vehicle, that material could explode or it may cause severe burns if it gets on your skin, so again we ask everybody to leave that material right where it is if they should come across it. Just call us. We don't do quarantines on ditch lines or property, such as yards. We only quarantine homes where meth labs are found. So if somebody comes by and throws out something in your front yard, we're not going to quarantine your property just because we found that bottle there. We encourage people to call us and let us come and look at it. If it's something we can dispose of ourselves, we will. Or if we need to call in a hazmat crew to pick it up, that's no cost to the owner. We get federal grant funds to dispose of methamphetamine labs and their components."
Q. Why do homes where meth labs are found have to be quarantined for a period of time?
A. One of the questions I get asked, especially by people who are in the rental business who rent mobile homes, apartment complexes, or houses is about the quarantine that we do on places where we find methamphetamine labs. When we find a lab there, we will quarantine the house. That's not the property around the house, that's just the house itself. After we do the quarantine, we will send a letter to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. We will also send it to the Register of Deeds. When we send it to the Register of Deeds, anybody say five years down the road who wants to come back and buy a piece of property can go up to his office and look in a file and see if we've ever gotten a methamphetamine lab there. We also send a letter to the landowner. In that letter, it states what the landowner has to do to make the residence safe to live in again. One of the things the landowner has to do is to hire a hygienist who is state approved to come and assess the property and determine which tier it rates. A low tier consists of a home which has had a minimum of methamphetamine exposure which might could be cleaned up by say cleaning the carpets, cleaning the walls, and painting the walls. A high tier means that the landowner will be required to pay a contractor, certified by the state in hazardous materials to come in and gut the entire inside of the residence, including the walls, interior walls, ceilings, and insulation, and put back new. After all that is completed the hygienist will come back and re-test that building. If the home is safe for someone to come back into and live then the hygienist will send a certificate to the jail and we will release that hold on the house. The landowner may then rent it back out, sell it, or do what he needs to."
"If somebody is wanting to buy or rent something and they have suspicion that methamphetamine is being cooked there, they need to do some research, because during that process of manufacturing methamphetamine, poisonous gases are produced and those gases, called phosphine, will lay low to the floor of the home. If they have infant children crawling over that carpet, the children may be breathing in poisonous gases whereas adults in the room, five or six feet tall, won't be as close to the floor. They may still be consuming some of those gases but probably not as much as an infant. So we encourage people to check out the home they're wanting to rent or buy, ahead of time to see what's been there. Of course, if someone has already been exposed to those chemicals or fumes they'll suffer from the same health problems as someone who cooked the methamphetamine. They may have respiratory problems, skin irritations, and vomiting because of the gases. We don't know about the long term health affects of methamphetamine because it's only been around since the late 1990's. But in years to come I think we'll see huge affects on people that's been exposed to methamphetamine."
Q: Would you be willing to meet with civic groups and others if they want to learn more about methamphetamine or other drugs?
A: "Yes, if any civic organizations, churches, or anyone else wants us to come and do a meth presentation for them, I have a power point on about every drug we see here in DeKalb County and methamphetamine is one of them. We will be glad to do our presentation for any group. We'll then have a question and answer session. We just want them to know about the harmful affects drugs has on our communities and some prevention they can help us with."
Q. What should the public be looking for in their neighborhood if they suspect someone may be running a meth lab?
A. "We would like to ask the public, if they have suspicion that somebody may be cooking methamphetamine, to call us. I've always had an open door policy. People may come in and talk to me or call me on the phone and if they don't want to leave their name, that's fine. We want any information as to what illegal activities may be going on in the county. The public is our eyes and ears. They sometimes see things and hear things that law enforcement don't see or hear. They (public) need to look for things like windows being blacked in the home or people coming outside to smoke. What we've seen recently is that these meth labs will be in a back bedroom, that'll be where they do the cooking, and there'll be an exhaust fan back there that will blow these poisonous gases out from the home to the outside. Not only are those poisonous gases posing a health problem for the persons cooking the meth, it also poses a problem for the neighbors because all of those gases will settle on vegetation, such as people's gardens and their lawns and toys where children play. It exposes the whole neighborhood. So please call us if you see things like exhaust fans running, blowing out hot air on a twenty degree night because something is probably not right there. All of the calls we receive remain confidential so give us a call if you see something suspicious."
Q: Any final comments?
A: "One thing I would like to encourage everybody to do is look at the methamphetamine task force website at www.rid-meth.org. On that website, you can go into it and report somebody who might be using or manufacturing methamphetamine. You can also search meth labs, just for DeKalb County on there. It tells places where we've found methamphetamine labs and places that have been quarantined. It also tells what law enforcement departments seized those meth labs. It includes a list of the quarantine clean-up contractors. It's updated monthly so you can keep up with how many meth labs are being found all across the state."
For more information, contact the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department at 597-4935.