Discovery of Meth labs and arrests in parish present a very real danger, from the highly addictive nature to the effects on the human body of this sinister drug.
Last month after receiving numerous tips that drug trafficking was taking place, St. Charles Parish detectives executed a search warrant at the home of Luling resident Brian Williams; it yielded 38 grams of methamphetamines, 172 grams of marijuana, and a cache of guns. Williams, 35, was charged with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and two others, Jewell Watts III, 25, of Gonzales and Richard Woodruff, 52, of Luling, were caught in the operation and charged with possession.This not the first time that meth showed up in the parish, as two meth labs were discovered in the summer of 2002 in Norco and Ama.
The arrests are a stark reminder of the dangers of meth in small, rural communities, and, according to Drug Enforcement Agency, “Production, trafficking and illegal abuse of methamphetamine continues to be the fastest growing drug problem in Louisiana.” As meth addiction is one of the hardest drugs to kick, this is particularly disturbing because many law enforcement agencies and publications, such as Time, labeled meth as a national epidemic.
Starting from the West Coast in the 1960s, the drug has gradually migrated across the United States, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Commander of the Narcotic Section for Louisiana Capt. David Staton recalls seeing meth, also known as crank on the streets, showing up at traffic stops in the early 80s in the Shreveport area, but added that it was a rarity.
However, times have changed radically, as “Almost nonexistent three years ago, methamphetamine related cases and arrests are now occurring statewide. The movement within the state seems to be from north to south,” according to the DEA, as it began in North Louisiana and has moved to the south. Unlike crack or heroin that are used predominately in urban areas, what makes St. Charles Parish susceptible to a drug like meth is its rural nature, as Staton noted the drug has a “cultural niche” in rural communities.
Meth is often cooked up in labs using common household items such Sudafed, Alcohol, Battery acid, Ammonia and table or Epsom salt, and almost anyone can do it.
“There are two issues with meth: the hazards of production and the highly addictive nature,” said Staton. Rural communities are often where meth is made in small clandestine labs. The chemicals used in production and its by-product is highly toxic. Red phosphorous and ether that are used in the process makes labs volatile and flammable, creating a potential for explosions. Noting that he has not seen another drug this insidious since crack, according to Staton, the popularity of meth stems from the great high users get, the highly addictive nature, low cost of production, and ease with which it is made.
Just like the toxic nature of making meth, the effects on the human body are extremely dangerous. The success rate of addicts getting clean is about 20 percent. Aside from the euphoric feeling users get, the drug is widely known to destroy the body, causing legions, sores, rapid tooth loss, violent behavior and keeping users awake for days. “The people who get hooked on this go through holy hell,” said Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, adding, “If they use it long enough, they age some twenty years in five years.”
As for who uses meth, “The people who get addicted and the families that get destroyed are not the traditional image people have of somebody on a street corner in a trench coat with gun selling narcotics; it is the people who live down the street; it is the mother, the father, the uncle, people you don’t normally associate with traditional drug trade,” said Staton.
To combat meth production, last May, Senator Cain, who personally felt the damaging effects on his family, authored legislation limiting the sale of Sudafed cold medicine, a major component in meth production. The law mimicked a bill from Oklahoma.
Cain’s rural community in Grant Parish had been under siege of meth labs, finding 10 labs in a 6-month period. At 19,000 residents, Grant Parish is less than half of the size of St. Charles Parish, showing that all communities regardless of size can be inflicted. Now, under the new law, Sudafed can only be purchased 3 packages at one time or 9 grams in one month.
“This is the drug of rural America and it is being pushed toward the cities,” said Cain, adding that because of the smell it produces it is easier to cook in rural areas. Before the new bill, Cain said, “People could buy $50 worth of material and make $1,500 to $2,000 worth of meth.”
“The use started in little communities around us, where people were buying up the Sudaphedrine, (Sudafed’s active ingredient for meth), in the country stores and cooking it up. We had meth labs all around us,” said the Senator, but added that the new bill has caused a dramatic drop in use because of the difficulty in purchasing the ingredients. DEA statistics bear out Cain’s assumption, as use appears to be leveling off, but he warns that any community is susceptible to dangers of meth.