Meth Epidemic Proving Costly to Indiana

December 4, 2005

Andrea Neal column for release Feb. 10 and thereafter
780 words

ImageINDIANAPOLIS — As if Indiana’s economy didn’t have enough problems, a new one looms with potentially disastrous consequences for taxpayers.

An epidemic in methamphetamine use and production is taxing our law enforcement agencies, pushing hundreds of children into the child protection system and filling up county jails. Here are the chilling facts: 

"It’s going to bankrupt southwest Indiana," fears Rep. Alan Chowning, D-Sullivan. "We have to figure out some way to slow down the epidemic."

Chowning has sponsored a bill in the legislature establishing a task force to develop a plan for combating meth abuse and manufacturing in Indiana. House Bill 1136 passed the House 92-0, and is before the Senate, where its principal sponsor is David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Be assured, meth is not just a southwest Indiana problem. A scan of newspaper headlines reveals cases from Elkhart to Evansville, Terre Haute to Richmond, Fort Wayne to Indianapolis.

In two of the more recent, a multi-agency drug task force on Feb. 6 raided a home in Angola suspected of being a meth lab. Police found meth and anhydrous ammonia, a common agricultural fertilizer which is the drug’s main ingredient. On Feb. 5, State Police charged a Perry County couple with drug and child neglect charges after officers found in their home more than 25 grams of meth and tools used in making it. The couple’s two children were placed with relatives.

Clandestine labs in Indiana are just one source of the drug. On Jan. 27, U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney in Indianapolis sentenced Mexican national Ramon Montero to 20 years in prison for running the largest meth ring ever found in Indiana. The operation trafficked more than $156 million in the substance in a single year.

Experts say the problem will get worse now that the price of meth has dropped precipitously. Bill Wargo of the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office testified at the Elkhart hearing that the price of one pound had fallen from $7,500 last summer to $4,000 last month. As recently as 2002, the Drug Enforcement Administration pegged the street price at $16,000 to $23,000 a pound,

Vanderburgh County is already expecting another record year. The Evansville Courier & Press reported last week that narcotics officers had dismantled an average of one meth lab every three days in January, on pace to exceed Vigo County’s state-high 108 lab tear-downs last year.

Vigo County, meanwhile, has launched a phone line so residents who suspect neighbors are involved in making or selling the stimulant can leave anonymous tips monitored by the Vigo County Drug Task Force.

Methamphetamine causes an intense rush when smoked or injected intravenously and a sense of euphoria when used orally or sniffed. It has been shown to damage brain cells and even cause neurological symptoms similar to those seen in Parkinson’s disease. If the dangers of ingesting it aren’t enough, its manufacture in makeshift labs that "cook" its ingredients in an explosive stew poses extreme risk to those present and neighbors.

The economic implications are enormous because of its ripple effect through criminal justice, child welfare and medical systems. There are more arrests, more trials and more people going to prison, as well as more child protection cases. In addition, police are struggling to find the money to clean up meth sites, which can cost $1,000 a pop if cooking has occurred and disposal specialists are called in. There’s also the cost of fighting fires when explosions occur, and treating human injuries. The Courier & Press noted that four Vanderburgh County residents were hospitalized as a result of lab explosions last year and two had to be flown to a special burn unit in Louisville for treatment. The dollar signs just keep adding up.

Chowning says the goal of his bill is to attack the problem "from all possible angles," ranging from addiction treatment to public education to increasing criminal penalties.

Thank you, Rep. Chowning, for your efforts to reverse this unfolding disaster. Remember the crack epidemic of the ’80s which destroyed so many families and harmed the brains of so many babies?

This has the potential to be much, much worse.

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