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Meth problem catching attention of law enforcement

By Staff | Dec 10, 2014

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, central nervous system stimulant that can be ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected. “When we tell you what goes into making methamphetamine, you will wonder why anybody would want to put those chemicals in their body,” Sistersville Police Chief Rob Haught stated.

Crystal meth, which can only be smoked, is sometimes called “ice” or “crackle,” because “it makes a popping sound when heated.”

“Meth hits people really quickly,” Haught stated. “They get an intense rush, increase in activity, and decrease in appetite. They will stay up for days at a time, don’t eat . . . and after so many days, your body starts to consume itself. Hygiene is terrible. They don’t take care of themselves, so they smell just awful. They are filthy. They stay up for days, and then they crash.”

Production-wise, meth is produced in clandestine labs, and a variety of ingredients are available in stores. Manufacturing is called “cooking.”

“Methamphetamine has been around for a while. The chemicals used in the early methods are a lot like you see in (the TV show) “Breaking Bad,” a laboratory, beakers . . . early on, that’s how they did that,” noted Haught. “They were called clandestine labs or clan labs. There’s whole different things that go into it. Every one of them are very volatile and the by-products are toxic.”

According to Haught, meth was started in the midwest as those who constructed meth labs used chemicals used in fertilizer, and the best place to find fertilizer chemicals in bulk is to go to an area where they are used. “These people could go to feed stores and farm supplies and get tanks of lithium and anhydrous ammonia, and iodine and red phosphorous. They could get all those things that go into fertilizer in bulk, and then they traffic this stuff. Most of the strip clubs were run by outlaw motorcycle gangs. Most of the methamphetamine was sold by those after-hour clubs, so you had all the associated crimes you have with those establishments, and now they are selling methamphetamine out of it. As these motorcycle clubs gained territory and had chapters in other cities, suddenly you saw this drug being sold out of more and more places. It just spread to the east,” said Haught.

“As it became a law-enforcement concern, they started tightening down on the sales to buy this stuff in bulk. You couldn’t buy big jugs of iodine now. You have got to explain yourself. You can’t go out at 2 a.m. and clean Wal-Mart out of cold medication. The primary ingredient in methamphetamine is ephedrine, which is common in all those cold medicines. You have to show photo identification to get it.” Haught explained that this is why when “you see indictments for meth use, there are 15 to 20 people, because this guy has all his buddies helping to buy the stuff.”

“All chemicals are toxic,” Haught noted. “When law enforcement or EMS shows up, that is an unsafe place for them to be.”

Haught noted that previously, in the area, there was a person who was responsible for over $4 million of methamphetamine sales. “There was a traffic stop made in Oklahoma, where an individual who was pulled over had 10 pounds of methamphetamine in a Coleman cooler, headed to the area . . . They allowed the delivery, he showed up and the DEA and Mouser (Haught’s now-retired drug dog) found them . . . The guy was arrested, property was seized . . . all because of a traffic stop halfway across the United States.”

The “shake and bake” method is the “easiest and most dangerous” way to make meth. “The container must be flipped down to cause the chemical reaction needed to turn several toxic ingredients into meth,” he noted.

Haught stated that since the feds started monitoring who purchases glass and laboratory equipment, people resorted to the “shake and bake” method to make meth. “It’s the easiest way meth has ever been made. There’s a point in that process where if the lithium contacts the distilled water, a flammable explosion can happen.

“We had one here just a few weeks ago in New Martinsville that was a shake and bake, one-pot meth cook in AAA Trailer Court. We believe there have been some other things that have happened recently that have been a result of these,” noted Haught. “The problems that we run into . . . these guys can distance themselves for a while, they can set it up to cook, dump it in a ditch along the road, away from where they are, come back later and recover.” He noted this can be dangerous for anyone, as a troop of Boy Scouts can be picking up litter, pick up a bottle, and have the lab explode.

Haught also noted that there are garbage labs, which “require thousands of cold tablets, a large quantity of fuel, and other household chemicals, glassware, and other products . . . a room large enough to set up a lab.”

Ingredients and objects needed for a meth lab include red phosphorous, Coleman fuel, aluminum foil, salt, drain cleaner, cold medications, camera batteries, brake cleaner, acetone, camping fuel, kitty litter, bottles, blender, sheets and pillowcases, jars, measuring cups, paper towels, cheese cloth, thermometer, and rubber gloves.

Haught stated that the symptoms of meth abuse can last for years, even after the abuse has ceased, “their health issues continue.” One of these symptoms is called “formication,” which is the medical term for the sensation of bugs crawling.

Haught stated that this condition can also be called “meth bugs,” “speed bugs,” “crank bugs,” and “meth mites.” Abusers can severely injure themselves by trying to dig or cut the bugs out.

A meth abuser will also experience tooth decay, also known as “meth mouth.” Haught stated that the teeth are bathed in acid vapors from the meth, which decreases saliva and creates a desire for sugary drinks. “Mountain Dew is the favorite drink of meth users,” Haught remarked, adding that the destruction of teeth can happen in one year.

Injection drugs can cause many kinds of skin problems, such as skin popping. Haught stated that to avoid detection from families, they will “inject this stuff anywhere . . . between toes, ear lobes, between fingers, under fingernails, eyelids, genitals.”

“They get abscesses,” Haught noted. “They hide injections in tattoos. If they have a red mark, they will inject it into a tattoo with red ink to try to hide that.

“I hope maybe we have been opening your eyes to what is out here in our community, and make you a little bit more aware.”