Face of meth still haunts state

Face of meth still haunts state

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010 9:23 pm
By: John Brannon, Staff Reporter

Part 1 of 2
By JOHN BRANNON
Staff Reporter
Kent Treece of Union City and Tommy Farmer of Chattanooga are seasoned soldiers in Tennessee’s war on drugs. As such, they don’t sugar-coat the methamphetamine problem.
Treece is chief deputy of the Obion County Sheriff’s Department. Farmer is dir-ector of the Tennessee Meth Task Force, which is based in downtown Chattanooga.
During a recent interview, they shared their experience and thoughts about methamphetamine, or “meth,” as it is known on the street.
But first, this background:
• Methamphetamine is an illegal drug characterized as a “potent central nervous system stimulant.” It is smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally. Common street names are “meth,” “speed,” “chalk,” “crank,” “crystal” or “glass.”
• Chemicals used in the manufacture of meth include acetone, ether (starter fluid), freon, methanol, anhydrous ammonia, hydrolic acid, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid (drain cleaner).
“The mixing and/or cooking of some of these household products will produce a deadly phosphine and hydrogen chloride gas,” according to the pamphlet “Children at Risk.”
• Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, medicines normally used to treat the common cold, are key ingredients in the malicious mix. They are called “precursors.”
Item: July 13. Seven people were charged after Union City police discovered an active meth lab inside a local apartment. … A clean-up crew from Nashville was called to the scene to destroy hazardous items.
Item: July 18. A West Tennessee man was killed over the weekend in an explosion of a methamphetamine lab at a Jackson motel.
Repeat offenders
Treece said the recidivism — repeat offender — rate among meth cookers is “unbelievably high.”
“Most of those we’ve dealt with the last 10 years are repeat offenders,” he said. “They’ve been caught multiple times manufacturing meth or caught multiple times in possession or under the influence of it.”
Since Jan. 1, the local sheriff’s department has seized and terminated six clandestine meth labs. Treece said the labs aren’t overwhelming, as they were five or six years ago, “but it’s up over what it was the last two or three years.”
And with each lab seized, there has to be a “full-blown” hazardous materials clean up. There’s no limit to the cost of a clean-up. The taxpayers pay, of course.
A meth lab, he said, may be something as simple as lab trash thrown on the side of a road. But it’s not so simple as it may seem. It contains hazardous chemicals or hazardous waste that must be cleaned up.
“Or it could be contaminated ground where EPA regulations apply and you have to bring in a professional crew to dig up the soil and dispose of it,” he said. “These are ‘super labs’ or ‘super sites.’”
Scary statistics
Farmer reports that in calendar year 2009, law enforcement seized 1,430 meth labs throughout Tennessee. And the high number represents a 76 percent increase over the number of labs seized in 2008.
“So far, based on first quarter numbers (January-March 2010), law enforcement statewide has seized 825 labs. That’s a 52 percent increase over the first quarter period in 2009, which was 542,” he said. “If we stay on this current trend, at this current rate, we are projecting lab seizures to exceed 1,900 in 2010.”
Farmer admits the statistics are scary. He said that when he gives the data to journalists, they say, “That’s terrible. We’re losing the war on meth.”
Farmer says he doesn’t look at it that way.
“What it has done is, it has identified meth as a very complex problem,” he said. “It’s unique in that it is a substance that can be domestically, clandestinely manufactured in someone’s home, car — while driving down the road — using common household ingredients that can be purchased anywhere and concealed in very small vessels in a relatively short period of time.”
Common bond
What is there about meth that is apparently attractive to so many who involve themselves in it in spite of the inherent dangers of producing it and handling it and all the dangers associated with it?
Farmer said it’s two things: money and personal need.
“There is money in it, yes. But with this drug and the ability to manufacture it, they can almost control their own destiny,” he said. “It is unlike any other drug. It is a very powerful stimulant and it’s very addictive. It’s similar in ways to crack cocaine and heroin and some of the other drugs. But what  separates meth from the others is that it can be manufactured at home in a short amount of time. From a minimal investment, it can produce significant proceeds and profits.
“And they can basically provide for their own addiction.”
Published in The Messenger 7.22.10

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