Pierce County 'turns the corner' in war against
Pierce County's war
against methamphetamine is far from being won, but the Pierce County
Sheriff's Department can see light at the end of the tunnel for the
first time. After three consecutive years of increasing numbers of
meth calls and responses, the activity leveled off in 2001.
"I feel confident to say we have turned the corner on meth," said
Lt. Larry Minturn, who commands the Special Investigations Unit.
"Sustained pressure should bring about even better results by the
end of this year."
The department responded to 301 meth calls in 2001, compared to
303 in 2000, 195 in 1999, 168 in 1998, 66 in 1997, 89 in 1996 and 42
in 1995. "If we had kept going in the previous year's direction,
we'd be at more than 400 this year. The fact we held the total to
last year's level is significant," Minturn said.
With financial and organizational support from Executive John W.
Ladenburg and the County Council, Sheriff Paul Pastor committed his
Special Investigations Unit to the meth war. The meth team includes
deputies who specialize in meth lab call responses, property crime
investigations, search warrants and follow up investigations.
National Guard members provide intelligence and interdiction
"We are focused on the methamphetamine problem because it is so
damaging and so prevalent that it doesn't leave us time and
resources to do anything else. It eats up our resources rapidly and
doesn't allow us to address other issues that are important,"
"It is a menacing drug and far more sinister and has more ill
effects on people than any other drug we know about." The unit is
supported by an assortment of local, state and federal agencies
and-or dollars. Their strategy is to proactively interdict products
and chemicals that are used in producing meth and to respond quickly
to meth lab and meth dumpsite complaints.
Meth's nature requires involvement by law enforcement,
environmental, land use and social service agencies. "Meth is highly
addictive, and the people who expose themselves to it one time
usually don't stop there. It renders families dysfunctional,"
Minturn said. "It often comes down to 'What is more important,
feeding your children or getting the next batch of meth out.' Meth
takes priority with these families."
With assistance from the Pierce County Alliance, a private agency
that works with Pierce County's drug court and other initiatives,
the county's meth effort takes a holistic approach blending health,
treatment, prevention, environmental and law enforcement.
Helping children from "meth families" has been the unit's focus
from the beginning. The state's Child Protective Services assigned a
caseworker to the unit full time. "Protecting children is near and
dear to every police officer and our number one priority.
"We find children who are caught up in families that are cooking,
dealing and using methamphetamine. We've had serious cases in which
children have been burned or exposed to chemicals and all manner of
health risks," he said. "Our primary focus has been to safely remove
as many children as possible from those harmful locations, and our
efforts have been very successful so far."
Environmental impacts of meth production also receive the unit's
attention. "Chemicals and other meth lab byproducts are tossed out
the back door or dumped in pastures and streams. We've found meth
labs or dump sites everywhere from hotel rooms to national forest
lands. These are potent chemicals that cause health risks to many
people," he said.
Like a structural fire that burns undetected for hours, the
clandestine meth lab problem exploded in the late 1990s, and Pierce
County became known as the state's meth lab capital. Even in 2001,
Pierce County accounted for 31 percent of the state Department of
Ecology's meth cases, followed by King County with 14 percent,
Spokane County with 13 percent and Thurston County with 8 percent.
Minturn and his colleagues expect to see significant improvement
in those numbers a year from now.
METH: What’s Cooking In Your
is on the rise. The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
reports that 9.4 million people have tried it at least once—nearly
triple the figure in 1994. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) notes that more than 10,000 people landed in
hospital emergency rooms in 1999 after using methamphetamine. On a
list of 85 drugs causing death in 1999 in the United States,
methamphetamine is ranked sixth (690 deaths, or 6 percent of the
total). The top five are, in order, cocaine, heroin/morphine,
alcohol-in-combination, codeine, and Valium. And the mortality rate
for meth is climbing: it increased 38 percent from 1998 to 1999.
Kicks or Work?
A recent study by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
(CSAP) shows that although some people use the drug to get high,
there is also a connection to the American work ethic: people use
meth to stay awake on the job. For both types of methamphetamine
users, the outcome is bleak. Researchers have reported that as much
as 50 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be
damaged after exposure to even low levels of methamphetamine. This
brain damage is like that caused by strokes or Alzheimer’s disease.
Meth also can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems,
hyperthermia, and convulsions, all of which, if not treated
immediately, can result in death.
The recent CSAP study A Look at Methamphetamine Use Among Three
Populations takes a close look at use among truck drivers, migrant
workers, and men who have sex with men (although meth use is
prevalent among other subgroups as well).
Students: A Deadly Way to Study or Lose
Some students use meth to enhance alertness. The drug appeals to
youth who want to study all night or get a short, intense “rush.”
Teenage girls take methamphetamine-mine to lose weight, as the drug
suppresses appetite. About 7.9 percent of high school seniors polled
by the 2000 Monitoring the Future survey had taken meth at least
once—4.3 percent in the past year (about twice the rate of a decade
To combat the rising use of methamphetamine among youth, a new
Tips for Teens: The Truth About Methamphetamine has been created.
For free copies of Tips or the CSAP meth study, call
The Rural Unemployed
Easy but dangerous to make, meth is manufactured in everything
from home labs to barns. An upsurge of production in the early 1990s
in the San Joaquin Valley of California quickly spread to the
Midwest, where manufacturers steal anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, a
key ingredient, from farmers. The typical Midwestern meth “cooker”
is a white male between 15 and 30 years old, with little education
and living in poverty, often unemployed.
Despite Federal regulations that limit the hours they can drive
in a single day, truck drivers are constantly looking for ways to
stay awake longer, drive farther, and make more money. Seventeen out
of 20 truck drivers inter-viewed in the CSAP study said that meth is
easy to get at truck stops.
Some Mexican and Mexican-American migrant workers in the
construction, food service, and agriculture industries rely on
methamphetamine to work longer hours and boost their earnings. All
the participants in the CSAP study of Mexican migrant workers in
Arizona said that use of the drug is increasing. Field workers
typically pay $5 to $10 for a single dose from dealers who trek out
to the fields to sell drugs.
Men with Men
Methamphetamine use to boost sexual performance or alleviate
depression among the homosexual population on the West Coast is not
new, but the CSAP study shows meth is spreading to eastern and
southern dance clubs and private homes.