Saturday, February 12, 2005

Battling Meth in America's Heartland

The Unnecessary Methamphetamine epidemic has spread to America's Heartland from the Western United States:

Saturday, February 12, 2005

MORA, Minn. — Methamphetamine (search), aka meth, is widely available in cities across the United States, but it is in the heartland of America where "crank" is causing the biggest problems for teens.

"It's everywhere around here," said addict Joseph Helmbrecht, 18, who is in treatment for the second time to kick the habit.

Methamphetamine is the fastest growing illegal drug in America.

"It has grown faster than other drugs basically because most other drug use is going down or has been leveled," said John Walters of the National Office of Drug Policy.

One out of every five federal drug arrests involves this highly addictive substance, and one out of every $6 spent on the War on Drugs (search) is spent battling ice, another street name for the narcotic.

Mora (search) — Helmbrecht's hometown in Kanabec County, with a population of 15,000 — is a small Minnesota town with a big meth problem — and according to the local sheriff it is too big for local authorities to fight on their own.

One out of four teens in this town is using the powerful stimulant, and labs for production seem to be all around so kids can fuel their habit, authorities said.

But the local police station — with one detective, seven uniformed deputies and two detectives — does not have enough manpower to properly combat the problem. The sheriff feels the state and federal government should be doing more to help with the battle.

"If this was a metropolitan suburb ... that had this issue ... they'd have money thrown at it so … much they wouldn't know what to do with all the funding," said Sheriff Steve Schultz of Kanabec County, Minn. "Yet ... we've got a small county and we've got to suck it up and try to get rid of it."

Some Addicts Are Never Given a Choice

Users are not the only victims. There are also innocent "meth babies," infants born to mothers who were using the drug while pregnant.

The babies suffer the harsh symptoms of withdrawal at birth. To try and ease the pain the babies are given methadone (search), the same drug given to heroin addicts during detox. And most of the time the babies cannot be diapered.

"When they're arriving at the center, more often than not they have open wounds on their buttocks, due to the chemical from methamphetamines extricating through their bottom," said Barbara Drennen of the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent, Wash.

Kitchen Course in Meth Production

Unlike most illegal drugs, meth is partly a made-in-America narcotic.

A user can find the recipe on the Internet, and with a couple hundred dollars pick up all the supplies needed at the neighborhood hardware store. Because of the strong recognizable smell given off in production, meth cooks prefer out of the way labs so that they don't get caught.

"The manufacturing process is so smelly ... and so caustic ... that you can't do it in larger metropolitan areas without the fear of ... somebody smelling it ... saying, 'Hey, there's something really odd going on there,'" Schultz said.

The need for wide-open spaces to mass-produce meth is a big reason why rural law enforcement agencies are so swamped. Eighty percent of Kanabec County jail inmates are meth users.

"They are addicts. They are cooks ... they are dealers," said county jailhouse nurse Clare Jones.

And many of the inmates have "meth-mouth," their teeth literally rotting away from the drug use, a side-effect that many found less important than getting a fix.

"I knew it was making my teeth go to hell ... but I didn't care I guess," said meth user Jeff Carlson.

Methamphetamine Rise Isn't Just Costly for Users

Housing inmates busted for dealing meth and the costs of jailhouse drug treatments is expensive, and tax-payers get stuck with the bill.

In the past four years the number of inmates behind bars for meth related crimes in Minnesota alone has jumped more than 500 percent, to over 1,000 prisoners. Each inmate costs $27,000 a year to keep in prison, not including extra fees for drug treatment.

"The meth problem is costing Minnesota tax-payers somewhere between $170 and $190 million dollars a year," said Michael Campion of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (search).

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