Cooking Up A Problem: The Effects of Meth

By Rachel Martin

October 26, 2011 Updated Oct 12, 2013 at 5:51 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Every week, Police across the state are busting meth labs, and they say meth is worst drug problem in Northeast Indiana. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) ranked Indiana 2nd in the nation for meth-related incidents in 2010, and 29 percent of those incidents happened in Northeast Indiana.

“This is a drug that is just…I can’t compare it to anything else,” said Master Trooper Andy Smith, part of the Meth Suppression Unit of Indiana State Police (ISP).

Police said meth production is most common in rural areas because the manufacturing process creates an odor that’s similar, but stronger than ammonia.

“You also get that strong smell with ether or an engine starter. If you smell some of these different smells, they smell like cat urine,” said Sgt. Chad Hill of the Kosciusko Sheriff’s Department.

It’s a popular drug to make because it’s cheap and the ingredients are easy to get.

“You can walk into Walmart and walk out with a meth lab,” said Stefanie Coburn. “Most of the stuff is stuff people have in their house anyway.”

“Coming out of a recession, money’s extremely tight and I believe it’s possibly easier and cheaper to make meth than it is to buy alcoholic beverages and other drugs of choice like marijuana and cocaine,” Sgt. Hill said.

Stefanie Coburn is a recovering meth addict. She said her ex-husband introduced her to meth, and she was addicted for seven years.

“Really that’s all that mattered. That was my entire life,” Coburn said. “I only worried about getting high and what it took to get high.”

She’s currently being held at the Kosciusko County for possessing and selling meth, and could face up to 12 years in jail. She’s been sober for seven months now, but when she was on meth Coburn said she lost her family and her home, and was living out of her car.

“I just kind of had a breakdown and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I just had a breakdown and started praying, asking God to help me get through this because I couldn’t do it on my own,” Coburn said.

Coburn said once she tried meth, she continued because it was so addictive.

“You feel like superman, you know? You can do anything,” Coburn said.

Meth users take coffee filters, drain cleaner, lithium batteries, propane, and other dangerous chemicals and cook it in empty plastic soda bottles, a volatile and dangerous method called a “One Pot.”

“Basically you’re building a bomb,” Sgt. Hill said.

But, making meth is impossible without the main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, or cold medicine, which is what makes it highly addictive.

However, meth doesn’t just affect those who use it. Janet Newbee owns a rental property in Fairmount, Ind. The tenant made meth in the property and got busted in August. She hasn’t been able to rent the property since.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Janet said.

Now Janet is responsible for hiring a Hazmat crew to test and thoroughly clean the house. She’s hoping she can rent it out by the end of this year if it passes inspection.

“They will give you a certificate saying it’s OK, but then you have to tell your people that is was meth in there,” Janet said.

Normally in those situations, the owner has to pay for testing and cleaning out of pocket, but Janet got lucky. Her insurance is covering some of the cost, but she still has to pay most of it. She got around the insurance company by claiming “malicious vandalism” instead of “contamination”, which most insurance companies will not cover. So how much will she pay?

“It’ll be costly, let’s just put it that way,” Janet chuckled.

“That’s running anywhere between $10-20 thousand just for the clean-up,” Master Trooper Smith said.

ISP said Hoosiers spend $100 million a year in taxes for meth-related incidents. ISP busted 400 meth labs in Northeast Indiana alone and 1400 labs state-wide, and they say the number is growing. But law enforcement, in partnership with local pharmacies, are beginning to crack down on users.

“Our drug stores in our county are very proactive. They actually provide extensive information to our Drug Task Force and officers as well and immediately call in individuals that they suspect,” Sgt. Hill said.

In fact, ISP and many local law enforcement agencies use electronic software databases that track who, where, and how much pseudoephedrine people are buying. It’s a way to help track meth offenders.

Current law states that buyers must be 18 years of age or older, show a valid ID, and sign a log book for records before purchasing pseudoephedrine. Buyers are only limited to 7.2 grams, or approximately 240 pills, in a 30 day period. A new law, effective January 1, will require pharmacies to enter buyer information into an electronic database and will issue “stop-sale” alerts to anyone over the limit. Authorities hope these laws will minimize meth use.

Even with these meth-fighting laws coming into place, police still advise people to be on the alert.

“We always try and tell people, if you see something suspicious don’t touch it,” Master Trooper Smith said. “Call local law enforcement, or call 911, we’ll send someone out.”

ISP said if meth usage is suspected in a home, there are ways to find out if it’s safe. There is no “home test” but the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and Hazmat companies offer private cleaning and testing. Otherwise, go to the County Health Department and get an “occurrence report”. That report will include the history of the property, and any results from chemical spills, dump sites, or meth labs that might’ve occurred there.

For more property clean-up information, or if you suspect meth activity, visit www.in.gov/meth or www.killingacommunity.com/. Both sites also include anonymous tip lines.

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