Pubdate: Sun, 14 Jul 2013
Source: Herald, The (SC)
Copyright: 2013 The Herald
Author: John Monk


LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. - Shortly after midnight on June 5, Lexington
County sheriff's deputies and narcotics officers swooped down on a
single-story home in one of the county's rural areas.

Acting on a tip that people were inside cooking up batches of
methamphetamine in not one but two kitchens, officers surrounded the
house. Deputies tiptoed to a window and peered inside.

"I was at this time able to detect a strong chemical emitting from the
residence," investigator M.L. McCaw later wrote in his report.

Officers had found yet another active illegal methamphetamine lab --
one of 43 meth kitchens busted so far this year in Lexington County
that led to the arrest of 60 people. At this rate, meth labs and
arrests in 2013 will far outpace last year's total of 51 labs and 70

If you thought meth was gone, you were wrong.

Lexington definitely is seeing "more hits on labs this year than in
years past," said Sheriff Jimmy Metts in an interview.

Meth labs and meth arrests are part of the drug scene's new normal in
Lexington County, a sprawling Midlands county that contains
million-dollar-home neighborhoods along Lake Murray's shores and
scattered rural communities, stretching in a rough crescent from
Swansea across I-20 up to Batesburg-Leesville.

The June 5 bust, on Fish Hatchery Road near Gaston, netted four men
and four women, who ran "frantically" around after a deputy knocked on
the door. Deputies then bashed in the front entrance and arrested the
eight, charging them with manufacturing meth.

Meth is an illegal drug that you don't necessarily have to buy from
someone. You can cook it up at home or even in a car, in powder or
chunks that can be snorted, injected or smoked. Its most popular name
is "crank."

Users say the drug provides a heightened alertness and powerful sense
of well-being. People sometimes go for days without eating or
sleeping, just fueling their high.

"Meth is incredibly addictive," said Jimmy Mount, public information
coordinator for the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
Services. "It is also incredibly dangerous, because of the
accompanying damage to one's health that comes along with using it.
Sometimes, after a year or two of using it, you can't even recognize
it's the same person."

Although meth users initially experience a rush, repeated use can
cause acne, loss of appetite that leads to wasting away, rotting teeth
and skin that appears years older. Brain functions deteriorate, and
users can exhibit psychotic behavior, including paranoia, anxiety,
aggression and hallucinations.

Metts said several reasons account for his county's increase in meth

Deputies have received increased training on what to look

Lexington has a lot of rural areas, and meth cooks prefer to cook meth
- -- which produces pungent chemical odors -- in houses well away from
other houses.

The public is increasingly aware of how to recognize meth kitchens and
report them to law enforcement.

A pre-made, hyper-addictive form of the drug, called "ice," is still
being shipped in from Mexico. The recession did nothing to blunt its

It's easier than ever to produce meth at home. The most popular
method, "shake and bake," involves putting various chemicals in a
large soda bottle and putting the cap on. The chemicals, including
lye, ammonia, and lithium, react with each other along with pills
containing the key meth ingredient ephedrine, and -- in several more
cooking steps -- produce small quantities of meth.

Psedoephedrine, found in some allergy and cold pills and used to make
the drug, is still being acquired, even though it's sold only behind
the counter at S.C. pharmacies and drug stores, law enforcement
sources say. S.C. lawmakers have not passed a bill making the drug
available by prescription only. Two states, Mississippi and Oregon,
require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine; law enforcement officials
there say meth lab seizures have plummeted since the laws were
enacted. In Mississippi, which adopted a prescription-only law in
2010, authorities say meth lab seizures dropped by nearly 70 percent
the next year.

Meth chemicals are so dangerous that the smoke and other chemical
waste products given off during the cooking process often pollute a
house, motel room or car to such an extent that special hazardous
waste experts must clean the site if it is ever to be used again.

Chemicals used to make meth are also explosive. And the drug is
explosively ripping apart familes in the Gaston-Swansea-Pelion part of
the county that's dubbed the Meth Triangle.

"We're talking about a potential bomb, the hazard to our environment,
to other people, the long-term health care effects and to our
children," said SLED narcotics Lt. Max Dorsey, who manages SLED's
various meth lab programs, including a $1 million a year state cleanup

Dorsey said the small meth labs headed up by a cook and a small band
of followers have upended traditional law enforcement drugfighting
methods. When it comes to meth, cops have no major drug trafficking
networks to target -- they have to devote a lot of resources to small

Then there are the children. Last year, Dorsey said, law officers
across the state took more than 100 children found in met lab homes
into protective custody after their parents were arrested on
manufacturing meth charges.

The Lexington County Sheriff's Department doesn't keep statistics on
how many children are found at meth labs and turned over to the state
Department of Social Services. However, the department said in at
least two raids so far this year, children were found and taken into

SLED Chief Mark Keel said Lexington County is one of several major
busy pockets of meth activity around South Carolina, but it is not the
largest. Greenville, Spartanburg and Laurens counties have substantial
meth cooking activity and meth arrests, Keel said.

State law doesn't require all polluted meth sites to be reported to
any central statewide databank. However, SLED does have a General
Assembly-approved fund of $1 million a year to clean up meth sites. It
keeps two environmental cleanup companies on contract to do the
cleanup, and keeps some, but not all, figures on how many meth labs
are located. (Not all counties report their meth labs to SLED.)

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, Keel said, SLED spent $800,000 on meth lab
clean-ups. In the most recently finished fiscal year, SLED spent some
$1.2 million on 523 meth lab clean-ups, Keel said.

"We have $1 million this current fiscal year, and we're probably going
to use every dime of it," Keel said. He said he may well ask the
General Assembly to increase the cleanup fund next year.

Across the Congaree River in Richland County, Sheriff Leon Lott said
meth is not yet a big problem. "Our drug of choice is crack cocaine,"
Lott said. "We have some meth, but not on the same scale as other counties."

The one place his deputies are seeing more meth activity is in the
areas that border Lexington County, such as the St. Andrews Road area.

"Motel rooms in those areas are being used to manufacture meth," Lott
said. "Often, they use the coffee maker and coffee filters in a motel
room as part of the 'shake and bake' method."

Lott said that sometimes the meth cooks put the coffee maker --
contaminated with hazardous chemicals -- back in place. "It might not
get washed, and then who comes in afterwards and uses it get exposed."

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said what Metts and other Lexington law
agencies are doing is crucial.

"Given that meth is often made in a local community, it's particularly
important that local law enforcement work to protect the community
from this extremely addictive substance," Nettles said. "I'm certain
the residents of Lexington County appreciate what their local officers
are doing."

Metts said that despite meth's many dangers, there's one major reason
why meth cooks and addicts keep on.

"Once they start taking meth, they cannot stop," Metts said.
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