RETURN OF A SCOURGE: Meth arrests are quietly rising

It’s a well-known axiom about drug addicts. But it’s especially true when it comes to those who are hooked on methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug that creates a false sense of well-being and energy.

According to a review of arrests and prosecutions for possessing and dealing drugs, methamphetamine is making a mark in the county.

Greenfield Police Department arrest totals for 2019 as of early December show arrests for methamphetamine (88) far surpass those for other illegal drugs such as cocaine (19), heroin (24) and controlled substances-pills (33).

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has noted a similar trend. In 2017, a total of 50 people were booked into the Hancock County Jail on meth-related charges. In 2019, as of early December, 82 people had been arrested.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said meth possession is the third-most prevalent drug charge his office files.

Meth never really disappeared, but all the attention to the opioid crisis has pushed it out of the spotlight. Mostly gone are the days of near-daily raids of neighborhood meth labs and drugstore “smurfing” for precursors found in popular cold medicines.

In 2018, Indiana State Police reported 192 clandestine meth lab seizures, a fraction of the 1,808 seizures in 2013 and the fewest since 1999.

In their place, experts say, is an insidious, hard-to-stop network of distribution from large cooking labs in Mexico and elsewhere. Interstate 70 appears to be a major pipeline for the drug; members of an interdiction task force that includes deputies from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department have arrested numerous meth traffickers passing through the county. In a bust in early December, for example, members of the task force seized 60 pounds of meth valued at $250,000 during a traffic stop. Days earlier, Indiana State Police troopers discovered 21 pounds of the drug during a traffic stop in Henry County.

Users here, investigators say, tend to get their drugs from sources in Indianapolis.

Refocusing attention on meth

Judge Scott Sirk of Hancock County Circuit Court oversees the county’s drug court, a diversion program that stresses rehabilitation for substance abusers. Those enrolled in drug court have more options post-incarceration including treatment, half-way houses, therapy, counseling, peer support and help honing overall life skills, something people on methamphetamine need. Sirk thinks it might be time for local officials to approach methamphetamine the way they do heroin and other highly addictive drugs. The county’s heroin protocol places users in a highly supervised probation setting.

“We want to stop the addiction, no doubt,” Sirk said. “I think there are ways we can adapt those programs we have to include meth.”

Statistics show they might need to.

In 2016, a screening of 56 individuals who might be considered for Hancock County Drug Court show 31 tested positive for heroin while only six tested positive for methamphetamine, program coordinator Beth Ingle said. In 2019 when 105 people were screened, meth users made up a bigger proportion. Forty-one tested positive for heroin, while 31 tested positive for methamphetamine.

Drug Court officer Gary O’Neal sees and hears about the effects of methamphetamine and other drugs firsthand. He said many drug users start using meth to ween themselves off other drugs like heroin.

“That’s crazy, but that’s what they’re doing because it’s cheap,” O’Neal said. “But, if you’re using meth to get you off of heroin, you’ve got a major, major problem.”

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment report, an analysis of domestic purchases from 2012 through 2017 show the price per gram of meth has decreased 13.6%, or from an average of $81 to $70, while the purity and potency has continued to increase.

O’Neal noted drug court has had very few people who have been through the program in the year and a half he’s been a part of it who haven’t had some type of setback such as a relapse.

“Maybe they had an opioid problem, and they’ve stayed off of that, but now they’ve gotten addicted to alcohol or marijuana,” O’Neal said. “They’re trading one vice for another, and that’s what has to change.”

Caseload rising

Many more people are arrested here for possessing meth than for dealing it.

As of early December, GPD had made 10 arrests for dealing methamphetamine, but 78 had been arrested for possession. The number includes cases that have been filed, pending charges, or cases that are still active.

Matt Holland, public information officer and chief deputy for GPD, attributes the relatively low number of dealing arrests to the creation of the department’s narcotics section.

“I have spoken to many addicts and informants and have learned that it is increasingly harder to find drugs in Greenfield,” Holland said. “More often than not, addicts and users will go to Indianapolis to purchase their drugs and bring them back to Greenfield.”

Despite that positive note, figures from the prosecutor’s office show drug-related prosecutions for possession of methamphetamine are climbing, with 122 in 2019 compared to 98 in 2018; 94 in 2017; and 47 in 2016.

Other than possession of paraphernalia (217 cases) and marijuana (215 cases), possession of methamphetamine is the most prevalent felony drug charge in the county.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton is well aware of how difficult it is to combat substance abuse and addiction, calling it a difficult and complex problem that can only be solved by comprehensive, well-thought-out, multi-layered responses.

“There is no silver-bullet solution to this substance abuse issue that we have,” Eaton said.

Eaton cited drug enforcement, rehabilitation, education and community resources as ways to fight the battle. But, he said, the entities must work together in order to find real success.

Like Holland, Eaton also noted how tough it is for people in the county to find methamphetamine and said users have to go elsewhere to get it. He noted that Interstate 70 between Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio, has become a major corridor in the United States for the drug.

“Along that route, it’s one of the worst places in the country hit with the drug,” Eaton said. “The reality is when we look at other communities along this corridor we’ve been able to maintain a strong enforcement of the law keeping it out.”

That challenge might become more difficult. A recent study of drug-test data in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio conducted by a Michigan-based testing lab, Forensic Fluids Laboratories, shows the number of counties in southeastern Indiana with high numbers of positive tests for methamphetamine has increased dramatically. In 2014, four counties met the threshold set in the study. In 2018, that number was 29.

Some information in this story came from a report about methamphetamine in Indiana published recently by the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

Courtesy of the Greenfield Daily Reporter

2020-10-19T18:32:01+00:00January 6th, 2020|Daily Reporter|

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