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The Journal Gazette

Meth labs soaring at alarming rate

When vice and narcotics officers went into an Osage Street home Thursday morning, they found a lot of what they expected.

There were all the ingredients for methamphetamine, two active one-pot meth labs and evidence that someone had been dumping old meth down the drains in the home.

Officers also found what’s becoming a common occurrence during many of these raids: children.

In the Osage Street home, there were four children, whose ages ranged from 10 months to 4 years.

In 2013, a record number of methamphetamine labs were seized by law enforcement throughout Indiana. And as the use of the drug has begun to spread throughout all socioeconomic levels and races, more of it is turning up in urban areas including Fort Wayne.

With that, police are finding an increasing number of children around the drug, as well.

Last year, 440 children statewide were found in environments where law enforcement officers found meth labs. That’s up from 372 in 2012 and 362 in 2011.

Those children are usually placed into the care of the Indiana Department of Child Services. It’s another burden on taxpayers when it comes to fighting methamphetamine.

A typical raid already requires many officers, a lot of investigation and now, many times, it includes child welfare.

“It’s very time-consuming to deal with meth labs,” said Noble County Sheriff Doug Harp, who began encountering the drug in the 1990s. “The amount of money it costs is unbelievable.”

Drug of choice

Law enforcement officers throughout the state confiscated 1,808 methamphetamine labs during 2013.

That’s up from the record 1,726 set the year before.

In Allen County, law enforcement found a record 64 meth labs, which is double the number found the year before.

While methamphetamine got its reputation in rural areas – it’s been called the “white trash” drug of choice – law enforcement officials have watched it spread into city areas.

This year, though, was an eye-opener.

“Honestly, this last year it has crossed all racial boundaries,” said Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Division.

“It’s not just a white drug,” he continued. “Other races are using it, as well. And we didn’t expect that to happen this fast.”

Warrant officers with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department are finding many labs within inner-city Fort Wayne, as well, according to officials.

Officials said meth numbers continue to climb because of the easy methods of producing the drug.

A one-pot meth lab is typically made in a soda bottle with materials that are easily obtainable, mainly from a local drug store.

And even though laws have been passed to limit purchases of pseudoephedrine – the main ingredient for meth, sold without prescriptions as Sudafed and other brand names – the one-pot method has allowed a whole new explosion in the drug’s use.

“It’s a lot easier to manufacture and make, so we’re seeing a lot more of that,” said Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department.

The increasing number of children turning up during these drug busts is also a concern for law enforcement.

Per protocol, any child found in a home with a meth lab is immediately taken to a hospital to be examined by doctors, Hunter said. The state Department of Child Services is called in and typically takes custody of the children.

“Being around (meth), it can make them high as well,” Hunter said. “And then all of those materials are hazardous, it can make them sick and poison them.”

Thursday’s raid on Osage Street where the four children were found netted three arrests.

One of those arrested was the children’s mother, who came home during the raid and was charged with several felony counts of neglect of a dependent for leaving her kids in a home with meth.

Two other adults who were at the home at some point were charged with illegal dumping because methamphetamine had been disposed of improperly.

“All that stuff is controlled waste,” said Hunter. “It shouldn’t be dumped in a drain or in the sewage. It will contaminate the house and the pipes.”

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health showed up during the raid and condemned the home.

The four children were placed in the custody of the Department of Child Services.

‘Chasing our tail’

Law enforcement officials are predicting that, from what they’re seeing on the street, the use of methamphetamine will continue to rise.

So, what to do about the problem?

In Noble County, which traditionally has been the county with the most meth labs seized in the state’s northeast region, law enforcement officials found 66 such labs.

Harp, the county sheriff, said the problem has been on a constant rise, no matter what legislators have done. They passed a law that limited and tracked the buying of pseudoephedrine, which caused a drop in meth activity for a while.

But then meth activity soared with the one-pot method.

“I’d love to say we made positive strides and we reduced activity, but I just don’t feel that’s the case,” Harp said.

Legislators are now bandying about a bill that would make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug in an effort to curb methamphetamine.

Harp, Hunter and other law enforcement officials favor such a law. Harp believes it will help law enforcement fight the problem.

Currently, police officers and detectives keep “chasing our tail” in attempts to bust drug houses that might have 1 gram of methamphetamine, Harp said.

When this happens, many times a cleanup team from the Indiana State Police has to be called in to deal with the meth and, in instances such as the one on Osage Street, the health department and child services have to be called in.

That’s a lot of agencies for few drugs, Harp said.

Making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug would force methamphetamine to be imported from other places. That’s already happening, but Harp says police can get more meth off the street with large busts.

Harp’s agency busted a drug dealer last year with 2 kilos of methamphetamine, which Harp said was a lot for one operation.

“If it’s a drug dealer, you do a couple buys, you go in and you shut him down,” Harp said. “You find a lot of product and a lot of money, and it is much better on our resources.”

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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