Meth use up, meth labs down

Users change the way they're obtaining the drug

Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff's Office Scenes like this 2016 meth lab bust are becoming a rare occurance as more Mexican methamphetamine gets smuggled into the country.

Even though the opioid epidemic has been dominating the news about drug abuse in the country, a familiar adversary to local law enforcement is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the war on drugs.

“(Methamphetamine) is the main drug we are picking up now,” said Capt. Aaron Nedeff of the Marietta Police Department.

Nedeff said the drugs that become dominant in the area happen on a cyclical schedule, and it’s methamphetamine’s turn again.

Jill Del Greco, public information officer for the Ohio State Attorney General’s Office, confirmed Nedeff’s observation about the rise in methamphetamine use in the state.

“In 2017, there were 5,328 methamphetamine cases submitted to the office,” she said. “In 2018, there were 12,377.”

Nedeff said the rise in use could partially be attributed to fear of death from using opioid-based narcotics like fentanyl.

“They both will kill you,” he said. “Meth does it at a slower rate.”

But something that is different with this wave of methamphetamine is where the users are getting it.

“I couldn’t tell you the last time there’s been a meth lab bust,” said Capt. Brian Rhodes of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“A full scale lab bust…it’s been awhile,” said Nedeff.

In the early to mid-2000s, local law enforcement were often finding meth labs about once a week.

Del Greco said that federal data for the state showed the number of meth lab busts in 2016 were 563. In 2017, the last full year of data available, there were only 245. Nedeff said the 57 percent drop could partially be attributed to the criminal risk associated with the manufacturing of the drug, pushing users to the cheaper option of buying it.

“People were getting five to 10 years sentencing for running a lab,” Nedeff said. “It’s cheaper and easier for them to get the smuggled meth.”

Del Greco said the rise in methamphetamine cases sent to her office were partially due to the rise in trafficking of the foreign made drug.

“We have seen through the drug task forces across the state, an increase being transported into Ohio from the Mexican cartels,” she said.

According to data on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, 50,569 pounds of methamphetamine was confiscated by custom agents at legal ports of entry into the country. An additional 10,328 pounds was confiscated by border patrol agents from persons trying to enter the United States illegally.

Washington County Sheriff’s Office Major Troy Hawkins said the potential risks from the manufacturing of methamphetamine should be curtailed somewhat with meth being shipped into the county versus being manufactured here.

“First there was the phosphorous method…then there was the ammonia method,” he said.

Hawkins said both methods used harmful chemicals and could produce poisonous gasses. The final method, called the one pot method, could result in explosion, he said.

“It could be made in a Gatorade bottle,” he said. “If the lithium comes in contact with water and then some oxygen, the whole thing could explode.”

Rhodes said the peak of the previous meth epidemic was in the early 2000s, when the production of meth transferred across a different border–the West Virgina/Ohio line.

“That’s when we were encountering (labs) the most,” he said. “Labs were a major problem in Parkersburg. It seemed like they were busting them weekly. Then they started filtering over to us.”

By the numbers

•Number of methamphetamine cases in Ohio in 2017: 5,328.

•Number of methamphetamine cases in Ohio in 2018: 12,377.

•Number of meth lab busts in Ohio during the 2016 fiscal year: 563.

•Number of meth lab busts in Ohio during the 2017 fiscal year: 245.

Source: Jill Del Greco, public information officer at the Ohio State Attorney General’s Office.