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METH: Authorities say methods have changed, but the impact on crime and lives in the city and county continues

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METH: Authorities say methods have changed, but the impact on crime and lives in the city and county continues

Methamphetamine – or simply meth – has been a popular “recreational” drug for years in the U.S., and although how it is manufactured has evolved, its use is by no means declining.

Texas County has long been considered a haven for meth, but Sheriff Scott Lindsey said it’s just as common in the rest of the Missouri Ozarks.

“When it comes to meth, I don’t think Texas County is any worse than any other county in southern Missouri,” Lindsey said. “It’s a statewide problem, and drug abuse is a national problem as well.”

Methamphetamine was developed by a Japanese scientist in the late 1800s and wasn’t illegal for many years (like its counterpart cocaine). In fact, it was even used during World War II by Germany, Japan, England and the U.S. as a means of increasing soldiers’ endurance and decreasing fatigue.

These days, meth is an illegal substance that users gravitate toward primarily for the strong and long-lasting feeling of euphoria (or “rush”) it provides. Here in Texas County, meth’s lengthy stint as a go-to drug can be attributed to multiple reasons, not the least of which are its relatively easy accessibility and tolerable price.

Users ingest it in several ways, including smoking, snorting and using a syringe (or “shooting up”).

“They do about anything they can to get it into their system,” Lindsey said. “And they’ll shoot it about anywhere on their body they can find a vein.”

In Texas County’s past, meth was often manufactured in home-based “labs” using rudimentary techniques, and the term “shake-and-bake” was often associated with backroads labs. While there are several ways to “cook” up a batch of meth, every recipe must include pseudoephedrine.

Meth needles

Syringes used to inject meth (a.k.a. "meth trash") collected by the Houston Police Department over a period of only about two months.

“People kind of invent their own chemicals and stuff to put in it,” Lindsey said, “but you can’t have meth without pseudoephedrine.”

Now, local meth is more commonly brought in from outside sources –– mainly Mexico.

“That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen since I got into law enforcement,” Lindsey said. “About the time I started is when the big meth lab boom was hitting, and Texas County was No. 1 or No. 2 in the state for several years for seizing labs. But the method we see it come here has completely changed. It used to be clandestine labs and they’d cook a little bit at a time. Now it comes in in large quantities, most of it via the interstate. Then it trickles through somebody in the counties along the interstate corridor and eventually ends up here.

“But we see it now in much larger quantities than when it was cooked at home. I think this ties in with the national debate on border security. Our border is too open, but even with a more secure border, they’re not going to get all the dope coming across because there are too many ways it can be smuggled in. But part of having such an open border is drugs coming in and ending up all over the country.”

Lindsey said Texas County’s high ranking in meth labs wasn’t because there were more of them than in other counties.

“I think those numbers were in large part because of law enforcement getting out there and doing drug investigations and getting labs,” he said. “I really don’t think it’s any worse here than in other counties in the region. In fact, some of the counties that surround us are getting hit much worse with opiates and heroin than we are. I’m not saying that couldn’t come here, but so far we’ve been spared from that problem.”

Ice

High quality crystal meth – or "ice" – seized in a bust by the Texas County Sheriff's Department.

Houston Police Chief Tim Ceplina said meth is also the most prominent “hard” drug he and his officers deal with.

“We’re beginning to see heroin in spots now,” Ceplina said, “but meth is still our biggie. We can literally get methamphetamine almost every week here.”

Chief Deputy Rowdy Douglas of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department spent close to six years working with the South Central Drug Task Force. He said the meth that comes here from Mexico is far different than the old shake-and-bake variety.

“It’s a lot more pure. A lot,” Douglas said. “When they did the shake-and-bake stuff, it was more powdery, or sometimes even kind of gummy. Now it’s just pure crystal shards.”

Lindsey said he’s not sure if the old or new situation is better.

“That’s a tough call,” he said. “You had people out there cooking in labs that could blow up or at least be dangerous, but that was a smaller quantity and we could track it better through the ingredients and maybe know where it’s at, whereas when it comes in in a large quantity, it’s harder to investigate that.”

Lindsey and Douglas both said that a couple of years ago when Missouri made pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug, many law officers warned that the move would lead to Mexican drug cartels taking over the meth market in the state.

“And that’s exactly what happened,” Lindsey said. “When we clamped down on pseudoephedrine here in Missouri, we opened the doors for large quantities of meth to come in from Mexico.”

“A lot of us who were out there not sitting behind a desk all the time were totally against it,” Douglas said. “That move definitely backfired. As soon as the prescription thing kicked in, ice just flooded everywhere.” 

Meth is referred to by several nicknames, including “speed,” “white,” “go” and “ice.”

“Ice is the good crystal stuff that’s here now,” Douglas said.

METH ATTRACTS ALL TYPES

Meth users come from both genders and a wide range of ages.

“Age-wise, it pretty much spans the whole spectrum,” Lindsey said. “You might think of the type of person being incarcerated for that would be in the 18 to 40 age group, but it’s not uncommon for someone 60 to 65 years old to be arrested for it.”

“And there’s just as many women using it as there is men,” Douglas said.

“It’s not even limited to a type of social class,” Ceplina said. “We’ve seen people with fantastic jobs and careers brought down by meth, and we’ve seen families destroyed by it.”

Lindsey said he notices a generational cycle.

“It’s pretty disheartening, but I’ve been in law enforcement long enough now that I’m dealing with children of people who I dealt with when I started,” he said. “I guess I always hoped those kids would see the mistakes their mom and dad made and say, ‘I never want to be like that.’

“But unfortunately, it’s kind of the opposite. They saw those mistakes and learned that lifestyle and fell victim to it.”

“It’s sometimes all they know,” Douglas said.

Lindsey said he has seen how faith-based programs like “Celebrate Recovery” and “Men’s Encounter” can sometimes break that cycle. Both are available in Texas County.

“I think those programs have a good chance of reaching a few people,” he said, “because they can find something to emotionally invest in. But first, they have to have a desire to stop the problem. Until someone is willing to get help, it’s really hard to force them to.”

METH’S ANCILLARY EFFECTS

While possession of methamphetamine is in itself a felony offense, its prevalence in society results in many other undesirable – and often illegal – circumstances.

“I’m comfortable in saying that 95-percent of the property crime in Texas County is related to the need for people to fuel an addiction,” Lindsey said. “It may not necessarily all be meth –– there are other substances out there like prescription pills, opiates and all of that –– but the stealing and the burglary is definitely tied to the need for drugs. And domestic violence is also tied to either drug or alcohol abuse.”

Ceplina said the percentage is lower in the city, but that meth still has a profound effect on crime in Houston.

“I’d say 60- to 70-percent of our crime comes from it or is related to it,” he said.

The TCSD and HPD are both being proactive in chasing down meth and other drugs.

“We’ve done several search warrants this year and we’re going to stay focused on the problem as long as it’s a problem here,” Ceplina said. “The message we want to send is that meth isn’t going to be tolerated here.”

“With some of the changes the sheriff has made, deputies no longer have to spend as much time writing reports on every little call,” Douglas said. “So we’re getting out and patrolling more than ever; this department is more proactive than ever before.”

“And we have officers who want to get out on patrol,” Lindsey said, “instead of just waiting for a call.”

Another side effect of meth is what Ceplina called “meth trash.”

“Probably several times every week we get called to pick up used syringes or smoking devices like glass pipes that people find on the roadside, in ditches or even at parks,” he said. “Some of the syringes can still contain meth, and some contain biologics like blood and can be considered a biohazard. I encourage everyone who finds something like that to call us and we’ll come get it and dispose of it.

bag of ice

A bag of "ice" seized recently by the Houston Police Department

“And if you have kids, please tell them that if they see a needle on the ground, don’t touch it. They need to get a parent or an adult who can contact us so we can take care of it.”

Lindsey and Ceplina agree that due to multiple factors, the meth problem (and drug abuse in general) in some way affects almost everyone.

“I think there’s a perception that drug abusers are only hurting themselves and not bothering other people,” Lindsey said. “I completely disagree with that because of the property crime being tied to that need to fuel and addiction. And I think it would be rare in Texas County that someone wouldn’t know somebody who doesn’t know a friend or family member who has had a drug problem. And even if they didn’t know that, they probably know someone who has been the victim of a theft.”

“It does affect everyone,” Ceplina said. “Meth creates that halo effect of additional crime around it. The depth and scope of the way it can affect a region is pretty far reaching. A problem for the city is a problem for the county and a problem for the county is a problem for the city.”

For some people, Ceplina said, meth can be an immediate one-way ticket to ruin.

“It’s the type of drug that can be instantly addictive,” he said. “When some people use it once, they’re always chasing that initial high from then on.”

ACTION TO TAKE

Lindsey said citizens can help by being aware of what’s going on and advising law enforcement when something seems wrong.

“We need information,” Lindsey said. “I think sometimes people think we already know everything that’s going on in the county, and we try to reach out as much as we can and get information, but it doesn’t hurt to let us know about something even if you might think we already have a report on it.”

After receiving information, law officers might need some time to establish probable cause before taking action.

“We might not be able to just head out right away and kick down someone’s door,” Douglas said.

“There are steps we have to go through,” Lindsey said. “Just knowing isn’t probable cause; there have to be specific facts that get us to that point.”

Ceplina agreed that public assistance is always welcome.

“If somebody has information about somebody using or selling meth, or participating in meth production, contact us,” he said. “We live and die on current information; if you have information that was valid a week ago, it may not be valid now, so the timeliness of reporting is important.

“And it’s true that there might not be an instant bust. It could take several weeks to develop the information and evidence to move on it.

“Otherwise, what we’re operating on is basically hearsay, and that’s not right. Not for nothing, people are innocent until proven guilty, so we have to make sure everything is documented and give them their due process to make sure their rights are protected.”

The TCSD’s phone number is 417-967-4165, and the HPD’s is 417-967-3348.

Staff writer

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FACT CHECK See inaccurate information in this story? Tell us here.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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