Kosciusko County is now on track to be No. 5 in Indiana for the most number of methamphetamine labs this year.
Indiana State Trooper Andy Cochran, who heads the ISP Meth Suppression Unit for District 24, credits law enforcement, fire officials and even medical personnel for being well trained in spotting potential meth labs.
“That doesn’t necessarily make us the worst,” Cochran says of the county’s current rating, “it just means our officers are well trained. I would say 90 percent of police here know what to look for. It seems worse here because we are proactive in the training.”
As of Sept. 30, Kosciusko County had reported 33 meth labs. Of those, 14 properties have been condemned by the Kosciusko County Health Department as a direct result of meth production. Those on the condemned list include three rooms at the Economy Inn in Warsaw where a meth lab was just found yesterday.
Despite methamphetamine precursors located in Room 224 at the Super 8 Motel on Oct. 31, Bill Baxter, environmental scientist at the health department, says none of those motel rooms are now condemned because actual meth production was not found in the room. Indiana Code, says Baxter, is very specific as to what qualifies as requiring condemnation.
The latest methamphetamine lab, which included two one-pot labs, was located late yesterday morning in Room 139 of the Economy Inn. One-pot labs – usually produced in plastic soda bottles – are by far the most common, says Cochran, because they are so small and portable.
Cochran was on hand to assist in the clean up and destruction of the items at the Economy Inn yesterday and says he believes hotels/motels and even vehicles are used as locations to produce the illegal and highly addictive drug because the majority of those doing the manufacturing do not have residences. He stops short of calling them homeless, but acknowledges they are the people who often lose everything because of the addictive qualities of the drug.
“They’ll sleep on someone’s couch for a while but when people say, ‘You’re not doing (drugs) here,’ they save up a few dollars and go to a motel.” Cochran adds, “Most of them are good people, but just purely addicted.”
But Cochran does admit the manufacture of the drug itself is dangerous and therefore puts the general public at risk. Rooms next to and directly above Room 139 at the Economy Inn yesterday were evacuated due to the flash fire risk. “There’s always that risk both to the person manufacturing and to those in the area,” he says. He adds that he believes more people are injured by exploding meth labs or flash fires as a result of a meth lab but they do not seek medical treatment because of the legal consequences.
While police trained in handling meth labs remove all precursors and active labs and work to deaden the chemicals on scene, they also document everything in photographs. Once the process of eliminating the immediate hazard is complete, more photographs are taken and then everything is destroyed. “We use only photos in court,” Cochran explains. “There’s really not much to argue with a meth lab and it’s not like you can take the bottle in the court and say, ‘Here it is’ just due to the danger.”
Although the old way of producing meth involved anhydrous ammonia and produced a potent odor, a new method requires Coleman fuel, lithium batteries and Sudafed, among other ingredients, and now produces a sweeter smell. But that does not make it any less dangerous, according to Cochran, who says the flash fire possibility still exists, as do the toxins left behind.
Meth lab contaminants can be harmful if people are exposed. Health problems may include breathing problems or respiratory irritation, skin and eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness. High exposures, even for a short time, can even cause death or severe lung damage and skin or throat burns. That is why the Indiana Department of Environmental Management requires companies to be certified in meth lab clean-up, and why Indiana regulates how the clean-up is to be done.
When individuals or businesses, such as hotels/motels and even landlords ignore state rules pertaining to clean-up, the affects on the general population can be severe. Baxter, who is in charge of making sure meth lab locations are condemned, unfortunately has no control of what the property owner chooses to do after that point.
Of the 14 properties condemned so far this year, Baxter has received only four notices that those locations have been properly cleaned by certified companies. He says he does check on condemned properties occasionally to make sure they are not being inhabited, but he admits he has to rely on the public to help him police those things.
“So far, I don’t know of anyone living in a condemned property,” Baxter says, admitting that from county to county, how the meth lab problem is handled “runs the gamut. Some counties do nothing, but we’ve taken the approach that if it involves a living space we move in and condemn it.”
Per Indiana law, all law enforcement agencies that locate an active meth lab must report it to the health department. At least locally, Baxter creates a file for each incident, printing out GIS location maps of each property and documenting what chemicals were located at the scene.
If a certified meth lab clean-up company is not involved, Baxter says the property owner must still submit proof that the clean-up was handled properly. There are also tests that must be done by an inspector qualified by IDEM. Those tests can run from $1,500 to $2,000 and, if high toxicity levels are found, cleanup can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Those situations are more likely in permanent residences where long-term meth manufacturing takes place.
However, Baxter also notes that, per IDEM guidelines, sometimes a living quarters can simply be “aired out” and then uninhabited for a period of two years. After the two year period expires, the property is no longer deemed condemned. “I presume there is a believe that it takes two years for the chemicals to outgas,” he reasons.
The Super 8 Motel in fact had one room that was condemned back in September 2010. Baxter, who has been with the county health department since January, can find no document from the motel saying the room was decontaminated, but the two year period has now expired so the room can again be rented to paying guests.
Cochran adds that there are really one two ways to combat the use and manufacture of methamphetamine. “The first is to prevent people from ever trying it because it has a 90 percent addiction rate. The second,” he says, “is to stop making Sudafed.”
Although there is another method of manufacturing the drug without Sudafed, Cochran says it requires much higher scientific skills and it produces a far less pure form of the drug.
The bottom line is, Cochran says those caught manufacturing the drug are not doing it for profit: “There’s no money in meth. There used to be but because it’s so easy to make, most of these people cooking are trading some meth for the Sudafed and just making it for themselves.”
Those addicted to the drug have a difficult time getting off of it because the effects can last a year. “It takes that long to get over the addiction because the use of meth causes your body to release all of its dopamine, the chemical that makes you happy. That’s the high they are always chasing.” He adds, “To get off of meth, a person basically has to put themselves through depression for about a year to get back normal dopamine levels.”
For a list of Indiana centers that treat meth addictions, click HERE.
For a list of IDEM certified companies that specialize in methamphetamine lab cleanup, check the website: www.in.gov/idem/4184.htm.