Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jul 2005
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2005 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Will Greenlee, staff writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


PORT ST. LUCIE -- Until December, the city's police had never come 
across a methamphetamine lab.

Since then, there have been three, the most recent found last week in 
a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer at Endicott Street and 
Paar Drive in southwest Port St. Lucie.

Police say there's a reason for the drug's growing use in the area.

"It's so much more addictive than crack," said police Detective Walt 
Wyckoff. "It makes crack look like candy."

Methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that can keep users up for 
days, typically is encountered as powder or in a more expensive, 
crystal-like form that resembles ice shards. Meth can be made in 
several ways, but tablets containing pseudoephedrine, such as 
Sudafed, are common ingredients.

The makeshift labs are tough to locate -- more so than marijuana grow 
houses -- because manufacturers can take them apart in minutes, pack 
the beakers, tubing, burners and other items in a car and be gone.

When asked whether meth is a problem in Port St. Lucie, Detective 
Gary Grenier said, "I think it's going to be if we don't continue to 
track down these labs and put them out of business."

Meth "cooking" procedures are somewhat complex, involving dangerous 
chemicals and multiple steps and can have fatal consequences.

"All it takes is a hose to come out of a bottle during a certain 
process and it would wipe out everybody that's in there before they 
knew it," Grenier said.

Oscar Negron, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration, said Florida meth labs typically are encountered in 
the Panhandle and in rural, interior counties such as Polk and 
Osceola, and in Hillsborough County.

The number of labs his agency has been involved with in Florida grew 
from about 30 in 2000 to more than 330 last year.

Drug users typically progress to meth, rather than start with it, 
Wyckoff said, noting one user told investigators he took meth to get 
out of bed and shot heroin to go to sleep.

"It would take the edge off enough to where he could actually lay 
there and close his eyes," Wyckoff said. "That's how bad he was."

In the July 5 bust, investigators found several pistols and a shotgun 
at the home, along with audio and video surveillance equipment, the 
latter being common at meth labs, Grenier said. The home's resident, 
Melissa Marie Hoffpauir, 25, was indicted on federal charges last 
week and could face 40 years in prison and $5 million in fines.

The other two busts happened in December and April, and DEA 
investigators were involved with all three.

Meth can be snorted, injected, ingested orally or smoked.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office has battled meth since the early 
1980s, Chief W.J. Martin said. He said it can cost as much as $20,000 
to clean up the chemicals left behind -- far more than a cocaine 
house where evidence is packaged up and "you're out of there."

"A meth lab is essentially a toxic waste dump," he said.
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