HAZARD — As methamphetamine continues to plague surrounding counties, in Perry County instances of discovered meth labs remain low even though local law enforcement officials are anticipating a spike.
Meth arrests across the state have been steadily rising, reaching three times the amount just three years ago. Meth has been a problem in the United States for several years now, and a recent change in the way people are making it has caused its numbers to grow.
The first reports of the shake-and-bake method were made in West Virginia about two years ago. Previous to this, it took several hours to make the highly addictive drug; now it can be done in a soda bottle in around 30 minutes.
Trooper Tony Watts of the Kentucky State Police said that meth had taken a hold in the western part of the state several years before it made its way into Eastern Kentucky. He blames this spread on the introduction of this new shake-and-bake method.
“The reason we are seeing it now is that it used to be that they would use what you call red phosphorous, which is like the strike plate on a match box, or they would use anhydrous ammonia which is a fertilizer that they use out west,” Watts explained.
“Now they have figured out a way to not do that anymore, it’s called the shake-and-bake or one-step method,” he added, noting with this new method all of the ingredients are easier to come across.
This shake-and-bake method includes several household chemicals that are very volatile and can be explosive. Watts said many times people will make it in a bottle in their car while they drive around. The problem with this is that the gases building up in the bottle need to be released periodically or it will explode.
Knott County Sheriff Dale Richardson said that he believes the economy may also have had an effect on the rapid spread of meth in his county.
“It’s a lot cheaper high for them,” he said. “It doesn’t cost as much to get the ingredients to make the meth as opposed to buying prescription pills and cocaine.”
In the past three months, the Knott County Sheriff’s Office has busted six meth labs that have led to dozens of arrests. The Kentucky State Police have also made several busts and meth related arrests in Knott County in the same time frame. Richardson said his office seldom received calls about meth prior to the last few months, but now that has become their main concern and focus.
“We would get anywhere from one to two complaints a day about people illegally selling the prescription medicines, and since this meth thing has kicked up over here I don’t get near as many calls about the pills,” Richardson said. “I am starting to get more calls about the meth making now.”
Hazard Police Chief Minor Allen said that despite the lack of busts in the city, they have had a definite increase in the number of complaints about meth.
“The number of complaints has increased as far as the availability of it, the people selling it and that kind of stuff,” said Allen.
One of the reasons they have received more calls about selling it rather than making it is that most people making meth tend not to make it at home or in noticeable areas. Allen said they have received several calls about people possibly making meth in hotels. They have found reason to believe that meth has been made in these hotel rooms, but no probable cause to arrest anyone on making it just yet.
Watts noted that other popular places to cook meth are often in abandoned structures and storage lockers. People will often chose these places since it is difficult to trace any meth or meth labs found in them to any particular person.
With so many busts in the surrounding counties, is is generally accepted that meth labs have made their way into Perry County, but officials aren’t yet seeing it on the same scale as other areas.
“I think it is there, we just aren’t getting it reported yet,” said Watts. “It has moved in on us rather quickly.”
Deputy Chief Joe Engle with the Hazard Police Department added that at during recent raid several precursors were found inside a home in Hazard, however, it takes three different meth ingredients to make an arrest. With the shake-and-bake method it is easy to make and get rid of any evidence of making meth all in a very short period of time.
Watts said that the best chance of stopping the rapid spread of meth use is to make the key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, a prescription medication. Pseudoephedrine is used in dozens of cold medications and can currently be bought over the counter. There is a limit on the amount that one person can buy during a month, though people working in partnership can still easily get enough to cook meth on a regular basis.
A bill in the legislature seeks to make medicines containing this ingredient a prescription drug, however, it has not passed yet due partly to drug companies fighting the bill. They claim it will cut down on the availability of the medications to actual cold suffers. According to Trooper Watts, there are 257 other cold medications that do not contain pseudoephedrine that are also currently available over the counter.
Hazard City Police Chief Minor Allen said that they will continue to look into all complaints of meth activity to stop the spread of the drug in the city before it becomes a major problem.