Sheriff: Meth remains a problem locally
Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 8:59 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
There seems to be no let-up in the manufacture and trafficking of the devastating illegal drug called “meth,” according to Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder.
Its witch’s brew of ingredients include battery acid, anhydrous ammonia and ephedrine mixed together and “cooked” in clandestine “labs” in houses, barns, motel rooms, even automobiles. The final product of the chemical process is so toxic, it eats away the teeth and also adversely affects the heart, lungs and kidneys.
And because of the toxicity of ingredients, math labs are harmful to the environment. Law enforcement has to call in special teams trained to clean up hazardous materials.
Vastbinder said six such labs have been seized and destroyed in Obion County since Jan. 1. “That’s a 300 percent increase over the same period last year,” he said.
The big trend in the meth market is the “one pop” method where all ingredients are mixed in a two-liter bottle, sealed and shaken and set aside a couple of hours. The residue is poured off and what’s left is the meth.
“But it’s also the most volatile,” he said. “When you mix it, if you leave too much air in the bottle, it can cause an explosion. There’s been a lot of labs blow up.”
Vastbinder attributed the increase in meth labs, in part, to meth addicts who are released from jail or prison and go right back into the business.
“Also, this is spring, which brings the farming season, and anhydrous ammonia is in the fields. Anhydrous is a target of thieves,” he said.
“There are a lot of people we call ‘smurfers’ who go from town to town buying ephedrine,” Vastbinder said. “We have a tracking system set up that tracks who’s buying ephedrine. It’s real time. The majority of retailers — Walgreen’s, Walmart, the smaller drug stores — report it to TBI. We use that as a tool to track smurfers.”
“Other than meth, prescription drugs is a problem,” he said. “Hydrocodone is still the most abused prescription drug. People are doctor shopping, going from county to county to different doctors. It’s as if they have an intelligence network telling them a certain doctor is easy to obtain Hydro from. A Hydro pills sells for $7 to $10 each on the street. The pill seller will get three or four people, pay for their doctor visits, let them get the prescription filled and pay them a little for their time. Then the drug dealer has the Hydro pills to sell.”
There are also those who acquire drugs legally via Medicare and sell them to drug dealers or addicts. He said the Tennessee Bureau of Narcotics has a special unit that works ephedrine purchases, and “we should do the same thing with prescription drugs.”
“Kentucky has it, but here in Tennessee, we don’t. If we could get it, we could track this abuse of prescription drugs. Then we can get doctor shoppers much easier,” he said.
A full house
Vastbinder reported that, as of Tuesday, there were 153 inmates — 134 males, 19 females — in the county jail awaiting trial. Of those, 73 are federal inmates, 33 are state inmates and 12 are awaiting trial in Circuit Court.
Of the various crimes with which they are charged, what percentage is drug related? “It’s running almost 80 percent,” he said. “It all leads back to drugs. They break into a house, steal a few things, sell ’em for a few hundred dollars and buy drugs.”
Published in The Messenger 4.21.10