Region littered with trash from new way of making meth
Post-Tribune staff report April 11, 2014 1:28PM
Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Section warns people to look out for trash left behind by methamphetamine. Such trash may contain chemicals that are toxic, flammable, corrosive and acidic. | Supplied photo ORG XMIT: CST1404112044416593
Updated: May 14, 2014 6:10AM
Indiana’s dubious ranking as the state with the most meth lab incidents last year offers a mixed message for Northwest Indiana.
Nearby Starke County is the closest area with significant methamphetamine production, while LaPorte and Pulaski are at the bottom of counties with meth issues, said Indiana State Police Master Trooper Maggie Shortt. Lake and Porter counties aren’t even on the radar.
“Porter County had no seized meth labs last year. LaPorte has none yet this year,” said Shortt, of the meth suppression unit. That doesn’t mean there is no production, just that they haven’t been reported or located. “It’s really too much area and too few of us,” she added. Her suppression unit covers 11 counties in the northern portion of the state.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said that his officers are on alert for meth houses, which seem to locate in the more rural areas of his jurisdiction. His drug task force supervisor reported no raids on suspected meth locations in the past three years, but when investigators obtain any information about meth labs, they give it to the Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Section, Lake County police spokeswoman Patti VanTil reported. “They are the local experts,” she said.
When the meth trade first took off, its makers need an isolated spot and access to anhydrous ammonia, both available in rural areas. But the new “one pot” method uses bottles instead of buckets and the ammonia odor isn’t a factor, Shortt said.
“We are seeing an increase in cities and towns now that they use the one pot,” Shortt said. “Buy a few chemicals and mix it up in a bottle. It’s not that complicated, but it is dangerous.”
The one pot requires quantities of over-the-counter pseudroephedrine, an ingredient in cold medicine. State law requires pharmacies keep records of those sales. And while the dangers that accompany the ammonia process aren’t as spectacular, the waste from the one-pot method is hazardous, state police said.
Now that the snow has melted and Northwest Indiana residents are out walking, jogging and riding bikes, the discarded trash from meth production might be seen on trails and along roadsides, the meth suppression section warned.
“This trash may contain chemicals that are toxic, flammable, corrosive and acidic. The combination of these chemicals could cause and explosion, fire or burns if they come into direct contact with the skin,” a warning issued by the meth suppression section states.
In a news release issued last week, state police tell people not to handle plastic bottles, food storage bags, blister packs and jars that contain a grainy material, because it is “extremely hazardous.” The plastic container may have a tube attached. Cylinders with a valve attached, sometimes found in open areas such as a field, may contain anhydrous ammonia, a hazardous gas. The valve would have a tell-tale bright blue color, police said.
“If someone comes across this type of trash, they should not handle it,” the release states, urging people to notify police immediately.
Law enforcement officials in Lake and Porter counties say the use of other drugs is more prevalent than meth.
Porter County Sheriff David Lain said that his officers do encounter meth users, but heroin remains a much bigger problem.
“We in Northwest Indiana don’t have the degree of meth the rest of the state does, but the only reason is because heroin is accessible and cheap,” Lain said. “We would have meth if we could stem the tide of heroin. It’s all about accessibility.”
Porter County heroin users trek to Chicago for their drugs, Lain said, and some heroin addicts also buy the stimulant to counteract the effects of heroin’s sedative effects.
Shortt agreed. “I’ve seen some kids in LaPorte County mixing the two, or using them consecutively. In their mind, the two will even each other out,” she said.
The second-most-used drug in Porter County, Lain said, is prescription drugs. “That’s why we support programs that encourage turning in expired medicines,” he said.
In Lake County, law enforcement focuses on the use and sale of heroin and cocaine, but Buncich said, “We remain vigilant as we know meth exists in Lake County.”
Anyone with information about the production of methamphetamine can call the ISP crime tip line at 800-453-4756, Shortt said.
The investigations take time, she noted.