Monday, April 30, 2001

Drug war heats up in Ky.

Meth use, production spreading

The Associated Press

        LONDON, Ky. — Authorities in central and eastern Kentucky say the production and distribution of methamphetamine is no longer just a problem in the western part of the state.

        Meth production has become so widespread in western Kentucky that Congress authorized funding for a new U.S. Attorney's office in Paducah.

        But Dave Gilbert, deputy director for the Kentucky section of the three-state Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area based in London, said the number of meth labs in the eastern part of the state is also on the rise.

        “We've seen a surge from the west,” Mr. Gilbert said.

        State police in Hazard found the first meth labs in the post area within the last few months, said Capt. Danny Webb. Mr. Gilbert said local police have also reported an increase in shoplifting tied to meth, as people steal ingredients.

        Methamphetamine, also called “speed” or “crank,” can be eaten, smoked, snorted or injected. It has become a major drug problem in Kentucky because it's so easy to make, is highly addictive and has great potential for profit.

        Methamphetamine causes an intense high and a sense of increased energy, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, but also frequently results in violent behavior.

        Abuse reportedly causes paranoia, hallucinations and health problems ranging from tooth loss and skin sores to serious kidney, lung and brain damage.

        Meth also causes environmental problems.

        The chemicals and solvents left over after production — an estimated five to six pounds for each pound of the finished drug — are considered hazardous wastes, requiring special equipment for cleanup and expensive disposal in approved landfills.

        Cheyenne Albro, head of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force based in Madisonville, said it cost taxpay ers $197,000 to clean up meth labs in Western Kentucky in 1999.

        Meth was once the drug of choice for motorcycle gangs, but production has spread from the West Coast, becoming a major problem in parts of the Midwest and South and moving into Kentucky.

        The number of meth cases in the state has jumped in the last few years. In 1996, the DEA counted six labs seized; the number last year was 141, said Capt. Mike Sapp, head of the state police Drug Enforcement/Special Investigations office for Western Kentucky.

        Capt. Sapp said there may actually have been more labs found, because there is some underreporting.

        “They're increasing ev ery day,” he said.

        Criminal charges logged in the state court system also show the increase. The number went up from 410 in fiscal year 1999 to 839 in fiscal year 2000, state police said.

        Most of those cases were in Western Kentucky, which is a major farming area. One of the ingredients of meth, anhydrous ammonia, is a fertilizer used by farmers.

        But Mr. Albro said police in Central and Eastern Kentucky should fear the effects of the drug's spread.

        Mr. Albro said his task force worked 200 meth cases in its 10-county area last year. Meth sells for $1,200 to $1,800 an ounce and has replaced powder cocaine in the region, he said.


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