Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jan 2003
Source: Chillicothe Gazette (OH)
Copyright: 2003 Chillicothe Gazette
Address: 50 West Main St., Chillicothe, OH  45601
Fax: 740-772-9505


Officials See Progress In Battling Drug

About meth

Drug name: Methamphetamine

Aliases: Street methamphetamine is referred to by many names, such as 
"speed," "meth," and "chalk." Methamphetamine hydrochloride, clear chunky 
crystals resembling ice, which can be inhaled by smoking, is referred to as 
"ice," "crystal," and "glass."

What is it: "Meth" is an addictive stimulant drug that strongly activates 
certain systems in the brain. It is closely related chemically to 
amphetamine, but the central nervous system effects of methamphetamine are 
greater. Both drugs have some medical uses.

How it's made: In illegal laboratories and has a high potential for abuse 
and dependence.

How it's taken: Taken orally or by snorting the powder, by intravenous 
injection, and by smoking.

Dangers: Effects of methamphetamine include respiratory problems, irregular 
heartbeat, and extreme anorexia. Can result in cardiovascular collapse and 
death. Source:

Give a call

Anyone who notices a suspicious person lingering in fields or on property 
where chemicals may be stored should notify the Ross County Sheriff's 
Department at 773-1186. If the department determines that a threat of 
chemical theft exists, surveillance would be set up.

While state and local officials are not surprised by the growth of 
methamphetamine as a drug in southern Ohio, they do believe they are making 
progress in the battle to combat it.

The production and consumption of methamphetamine has steadily increased 
and the number of clandestine labs have almost quadrupled since 1999 in 
Ohio, say local law enforcement officials.

Pete Tobin, the narcotics section chief at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal 
Identification and Investigation, said the growth is worrying, but not 
unexpected given the drug's explosion in the western U.S.

"Methamphetamine and the illicit manufacturing of methamphetamine really 
started some 10 years ago in California and has been creeping eastward ever 
since," Tobin said.

"Last year, we had between 110 and 115 labs. If you go two states over to 
Illinois, they had 800 labs last year. If you go to Missouri, they had 
about 2,000," he said. In Ohio, the majority of labs were found south of 

"It is absolutely an epidemic to states to our west and we suspect that in 
due time, we will be overrun with this stuff and we'll be packing the 
prisons full," he said.

A cheap high

Methamphetamine, commonly known as speed, is a highly toxic, powerful 
central nervous system stimulant. It can be smoked, injected or taken 
orally and has effects similar to those offered by cocaine.

While it looks similar to and costs about as much as cocaine, the high 
offered by meth lasts much longer, making it attractive to consumers. 
Unlike cocaine, most of which is imported, meth can cheaply be produced 
domestically, offering a higher profit to sellers.

The drug is created using a recipe available on the Internet and common 
chemicals like anhydrous ammonia and ephedrine. When combined incorrectly, 
the mixture becomes unstable and can explode. Law enforcement officials 
view the meth labs as hazardous material sites, said Tobin.

When the chemical explodes and results in a fire, he said, the sites become 
traps for firefighters who are attempting to use other chemicals or water 
to subdue the fire. Specially trained and equipped officers can dismantle 
the labs, he said.

Most producers create small batches of methamphetamine, selling enough to 
survive on and using the remainder to feed their habits, say officials.

Finding the labs

Ross County Sheriff Ron Nichols said action to catch and punish producers 
and consumers now would make the county an unattractive place for them and 
serve as an effective deterrent to others.

"We are making a significant impact on these methamphetamine labs. We're a 
long way from where we need to be, but we are making progress," he said. 
"They are moving to elsewhere, going to other counties."

"Many times, unless you see (the labs), you won't catch them," Nichols 
said. In late 2000, several Ross County Sheriff's deputies were trained in 
how to safely dismantle a methamphetamine lab to reduce the time delay 
between identification and arrest.

Previously, local law enforcement had to wait for trained Drug Enforcement 
Agency officials to dismantle the labs. The labs are treated like hazardous 
material accident sites because of the volatile chemicals involved and the 
toxic waste residue that remains after the drug is produced.

Learning the signs

Nichols said law enforcement officials are becoming adept at following the 
signs that methamphetamine is being produced. One of the clues is the 
strong smell of chemicals where they should not be present. Another clue is 
the purchase or theft of chemicals used to produce the drug.

"Now, we can shut them down before they have the opportunity to move them, 
so the element of surprise will be on our side," he said.

Several steps to combat the growth in production and consumption of 
methamphetamine are now in place.

Training to help officials recognize and safely deal with meth and labs.

All levels of law enforcement are cooperating with suppliers of chemicals 
used in meth production to increase reporting and tracking when suspicious 
purchases or thefts occur.

A database has been developed to track and collect reports to monitor 
methamphetamine production and related arrests. Punish the guilty

Local justice officials say the are pursuing the strictest punishments 
possible for anyone caught producing or consuming methamphetamine in an 
attempt to slow its growth in the region.

"All drugs are bad, but this drug, as far as drugs go, is the worst of the 
worst," said Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk. "Everything about it is just 
so dangerous. It's dangerous to manufacture, it's dangerous to take."

Methamphetamine, like opium, is a schedule two controlled substance, he 
said. Manufacturing it in any amount is a second-degree felony punishable 
by up to eight years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine.

The penalty for possession depends on the amount. Small amounts result in a 
fifth-degree felony, which carries up to one year in prison and up to a 
$2,500 fine. Larger amounts can result in up to a first-degree felony 
punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine.

In August 2001, the state legislature passed a special provision making it 
illegal to assemble or possess the chemicals for the manufacture of any 
controlled substance, Junk said. Prior to this, a possession of criminal 
tools charge would have been applied.

Junk said the emergence of support for this special provision was partially 
due to fear that methamphetamine was increasing in Ohio. It also indicates 
a determination, at all levels, to stunt its spread. 
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