HAZARD – Meth labs have been on the rise in Kentucky for the past three years, with more than 1,200 discovered by authorities in each of the past two. A very small amount of those illegal operations were found in Perry County, though this year could be different.
As of April 30, police have already located at least five meth labs in Perry County, including two utilizing the so-called one-step method.
“It was a lot more in the western counties (of Kentucky),” noted Perry County Deputy Elmer Fugate. “Now it’s made its way over here.”
The most recent arrests in Perry County were made on April 18 after two people were charged with manufacturing meth inside a small shack in the Bonnyman community. The day before, authorities reported finding meth precursors in a home less than a half mile away, while the week before that officers with the Hazard Police Department located a one-step lab inside a house in the Lothair community.
“I think it’s been in Perry County for a while, we’ve just not seen it,” said Joe Engle, deputy chief with the Hazard Police Department. “I think we’ve just got more people making it than what there was.”
Methamphetamine is widely listed as one of the most addictive illegal drugs, and can be ingested in a number of ways, from injection to inhalation. The compound was first synthesized in 1887, and later administered to soldiers to prevent fatigue during World War II. When ingested, meth provides a stimulant effect, though it also represents a plethora of negative side effects, including brain damage, organ failure, and dental deterioration often referred to as “meth mouth.”
The manufacturing of meth also presents issues, both for human health and for the local environment. Most labs discovered in Eastern Kentucky have been small clandestine operations in back yards or even inside vehicles, known as rolling meth labs. In addition to pseudoephedrine, several everyday items are used in making the drug, many of them toxic, including drain cleaner, lithium batteries, and lye. According to the Meth Project Foundation, an anti-meth initiative, five pounds of waste are produced for every one pound of product.
Numerous instances of meth lab explosions have also been reported, resulting from a volatile mix of chemicals. A South Carolina man was expected to plead guilty just this week in connection with a meth lab explosion that killed three people in 2012, one a four-year-old child.
“One of the biggest fears, of course, is the danger of making it,” said Deputy Chief Engle. “You’ve got the danger of explosions, the chemicals coming off of it. If you breathe the stuff in while it’s being manufactured, it could kill you or damage your lungs severely.”
Engle attributed the increase in local meth cases to the higher cost of prescription pills, which for the past decade have remained widely abused in the county. Deputy Fugate noted that access to mostly readily available ingredients likely is playing a role in the uptick as well.
“The only thing that they have any kind of problems in getting to make it is Sudafed,” Fugate said. “They’re actually coming up with ways around that.”
In 2012, the Kentucky legislature enacted limits on the purchase of pseudoephedrine, which is used in many cold and allergy medications. The law requires a prescription for more than 7.2 grams per month. But as Deputy Fugate noted, meth makers are finding ways of obtaining the substance, including the use of a method called smurfing in which several different people purchase the maximum allotment and bring it back to the manufacturer.
In an area already racked by issues with rampant prescription pill abuse, meth presents families and law enforcement officials with additional problems, from the expense in cleaning up meth labs to having to deal with addicts who display varied behavior. According to a 2010 report from the Kentucky State Police, the state spent more than $2.5 million in investigating and disposing of meth labs, up nearly $800,000 from the previous year. Considering other costs, such as man hours, overtime, and lab analysis, the state spent more than $30 million combating meth in 2009.
“It’s here,” Deputy Fugate said. “It’s clear that it’s here, it’s just a matter of tracking it down and finding it. That’s why, any complaint that we receive, these guys they do an excellent job in getting out and investigating these complaints. As much as they can take off the streets, the better the communities are going to be, but we do urge anybody that does have any information or any kind of tips or anything to call. We don’t take them lightly.”