Pubdate: Sat, 10 Dec 2011
Source: Huntsville Item (TX)
Copyright: 2011 Huntsville Item and Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.
Author: Cody Stark


HUNTSVILLE -- The use, manufacturing and selling of methamphetamines is
the latest drug epidemic to plague this country and like it is in a
lot of areas, there is a growing problem in Walker County.

Meth, as it is known on the streets, is a psychoactive drug that
increases alertness, concentration, energy and could enhance euphoria.
It is highly addictive and easy to make, which are two of the reasons
as to why it is becoming increasingly popular for both users and dealers.

"Meth has always been around, but right now the problem is more
frequent," said a narcotics investigator with the Walker County
Sheriff's Office whose identify was asked to be protected. "When
talking with informants on the streets, it comes in waves and you hear
more and more people talking about it and getting arrested for meth.
It comes in cycles and right now we are in a part of the cycle where
there is a lot of meth."

The Walker County Sheriff's Office has busted two meth labs in the
past year. One of those incidents came in January when investigators
performed a "knock-and-talk" at a residence on Bybee Circle in the
northwest part of the county.

The officers smelled a strong odor coming from the home and when one
of the residence came to the door, it was discovered that the home was
being used to manufacture meth. Law enforcement seized close to 2,500
grams of finished product and materials used to make methamphetamines.
Four people were arrested and charged with first-degree felony counts
of manufacturing and delivering a controlled substance.

Two busted meth labs might not sound like a lot, but because the drug
is getting easier to make, labs are becoming more mobile. Inside the
city limits of Huntsville, police have found labs in a car and in a
hotel room.

"Meth has been in this country for many, many years and back in the
1960s and 70s there was a whole different cooking process," Walker
County Sheriff Clint McRae said. "It just about required a chemist to
cook a finished product. As time has progressed, cookers have come up
with ways to shorten the process."

Chemistry labs with beakers, burners and other apparatuses have been
replaced now days with a plastic bottle and cold medicine tablets. A
popular and simple method used by today's cookers is called "shake and
bake" or one pot meth making.

Basically what that means is that the cooks make the drug in a sealed
container, a two-liter bottle for instance, which is flipped upside
down to cause a reaction between a number of toxic ingredients to make
a finished product. Instead of a long process, meth can now be made in
less than an hour.

Just this week, a woman was arrested for allegedly mixing chemicals to
make meth inside a Walmart in Oklahoma.

"It requires just chemicals now, not heat," McRae said. "They put it
in a bottle, shake it up and let it sit. The chemicals separate and
dry and just like that there is a finished product."

Meth is made by mixing pseudoephedrine, which is an ingredient in
over-the-counter cold medicine, with other harmful chemicals such as
rubbing alcohol, ether, paint thinner and lithium among other things.

State laws have been passed to limit the purchase of over-the-counter
cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine in an effort to try and
prevent the manufacturing of meth. Those medicines are now behind the
counter and pharmacies electronically track these transactions and
individuals are only allowed to purchase a certain amount each month.

But meth cookers have found away to get around this obstacle.
"Smurfers" are people who gather raw materials for the dealers and
exchange them for the finished product.

"Smurfers go around to pharmacies and purchase as much medicine as
they can," said Det. Justin Lehman, a narcotics officer with the
Huntsville Police Department. "They might start off in Huntsville and
go to College Station and so on in a big circle so that by the time
they come back to Huntsville they can buy more. They give the medicine
to the dealers and get drugs in return."

Meth is highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, it leads to devastating medical, psychological and social
consequences and health risks including psychotic behavior, heart
problems, malnutrition and severe dental problems.

Meth has also led to a rise in other crimes around the area. Users
need to get a fix so bad that they break into homes and commit robbery
just to get money.

"Drugs, be it marijuana, cocaine or meth, are the root of many evil,"
McRae said. "In turn we see a lot of property crimes, shoplifting,
burglaries and stuff like that as a spin-off of meth use. Heavy users
can't maintain a job and they need money for their ephedrine, other
chemicals and food. That leads to stealing."

Walker County law enforcement agencies are doing their best to crack
down on the meth problem with narcotic task forces. It is an uphill
battle as the dealers continue to evolve their drug making methods and
trap more people with addiction.

But there is headway being made.

"I was talking to a sheriff from a adjoining county not long ago and
he said 'Clint, you guys are really hammering the drug users hard over
there,'" McRae said. "He said that he knew this because we were
chasing them into his county. We have made more narcotic related
arrests on an annual basis than ever before in the history of the
Sheriff's Office.

"We are hammering them and we are going to keep on hammering them."
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