Meth abuse surging

Photo submitted by Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Josh Staats Members of the Washington Morgan Noble Major Crimes Task Force neutralize lithium from a methamphetamine lab last year.

An increase in availability of methamphetamine has been linked to the nation’s heroin epidemic and local officials say the rise in accessibility to the stimulant is evident in more investigations and drug seizures.

Methamphetamine and heroin provide two different kinds of inebriation. The former provides a flash “high” through stimulation while the latter provides a sense of euphoria and then a slow drowsiness.

“I’d say we’re now seeing more meth than heroin,” said Capt. Aaron Nedeff of the Marietta Police Department.

Meth labs were prevalent in the area several years ago but then seemed to dwindle in numbers. They may soon come roaring back, according to recent trends.

“Since November of last year we’ve been seeing heroin at a pretty level rate, whereas the meth is coming back again even though there aren’t many local labs,” added Det. Tyson Estes, MPD’s full-time officer on the Washington

Morgan Noble Major Crimes Task Force. “We just had an arrest two weeks ago of two guys down here from Columbus found with 78 grams of meth and 12 grams of heroin with a Marietta street value of $18,000.”

Washington County Sheriff’s Lt. Josh Staats, who also serves on the task force, said within the last month alone eight search warrants have yielded the seizure of meth.

Through drug seizures made by the task force, Nedeff observed that rather than local manufacturing occurring in the Mid-Ohio Valley, the meth is often being sold alongside heroin trafficked from Mexico.

“A lot of people are selling both and since the heroin overdoses have risen, street theory has leaned toward the slower death,” said Nedeff. “This is a cycle that’s happened before, it happens as the death toll increases. The killer drug becomes less popular but the addictive personality is still there so the drug of choice shifts.”

The Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services confirmed Nedeff’s theory with a study released this month showing an uptick in methamphetamine across the state.

It stated that between July and December 2015, 2,706 cases of methamphetamine were logged by the National Forensic Laboratory Information System in all Ohio counties, but in the next six months 3,265 were reported from those same counties–a 20.7 percent increase.

Estes added that informants have explained that heroin addicts scared of dying from overdose are now turning to methamphetamine as a way to ween themselves off of heroin dependency.

“Respondents noted that many meth users are heroin addicts and explained that the drug is often used to avoid opiate withdrawal symptoms,” said the study. “Meth is also used in combination with heroin for the ‘speed ball’ effect (concurrent or consecutive stimulant and sedative highs).”

Washington, Noble, Morgan and Monroe counties fall within the OSAM Athens region and saw a rise from 197 cases of meth between July and December 2015 to 334 cases between January and June 2016.

“We just got in our data for the final six months of 2016 and will be processing and analyzing that to be fully reported in June this year,” explained Tom Sherba, OSAM principal investigator, last week.

Though the study showed that in most rural areas powdered meth is more prevalent, Estes said in the Mid-Ohio Valley, seizures of “Ice” or the crystal shard form of methamphetamine is increasing.

“And the Mexican drug cartels are using gang members out of Columbus, Akron and Dayton to smuggle the shards down here,” Estes explained. “They’re moving it over the southern U.S. border in liquid form, then breaking that down to its crystal state in operations in the city then having the gangs distribute it to the rural areas.”

He also said meth labs are right now only being found in rural areas like Noble and Morgan counties.

“It’s not to say the labs aren’t still here, but the risk of blowing up is greater if you’re the one making the meth,” he explained. “Still, if the community notices a smell of ammonia or an irritant and they’re concerned, please call us. And parents, don’t explain it away if you’re noticing odd behaviors. Nobody wants to say that their son or daughter has a drug problem but we have a lot of parents come to us afterward saying that getting busted helped their kid.”

He said because of the nature of the high meth provides, the drug seems to be more popular with younger addicts than those over 35.

“But at the end of the day if you need to get high, whatever drug is available does the trick,” said Staats. “While heroin knows no age limit or social status, the same could be said of any drug with a motivated addict.”

At a glance:

¯ Ohio counties saw a 20.7 percent rise in availability of methamphetamine last year.

¯ The rise in meth has been linked to heroin trafficking operations out of Mexico where officials believe the meth is being manufactured in tandem.

¯ Local officials say heroin seizures have plateaued since November but meth availability has increased.

Source: Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Washington Morgan Noble Major Crimes Task Force.


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