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Methamphetamine on the rise
Authorities work to fight increase in powerful drug
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Authorities dressed in protective gear and breathing apparatus clean up a meth lab in Patrick County in what Sheriff Dan Smith said is a “very costly operation” that uses “many resources” because of the hazardous chemicals mixed to manufacture the drug. (Contributed photos)

Monday, May 13, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A meth lab recently found in Henry County is a sign of a growing problem, according to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve seen more imported meth from Mexico coming here, and recently, we’ve been seeing an increase in the production” of meth, said sheriff’s Capt. Eric Winn.

He noted that recently, U.S. Marshals found what is believed to be a meth lab in a home in Henry County. No charges have been filed in connection with the incident, Winn said.

“We have to send everything to the lab and have it analyzed,” he said. “Basically, it’s just like testing any drug, and sometimes, it takes a month or two to get the results back, depending on how busy the lab is.”

Methamphetamine — commonly called meth — is made by mixing common chemicals, but the “cooking” process is dangerous, and the mixture is hazardous, Winn said.

A specially trained team with the Virginia State Police was called in to dismantle the Henry County lab, and Winn said the team “probably spent a couple hours working on it.” Team members must wear protective suits and either airpacks or respirators (basically masks with filters for breathing), he said.

A private company then came in to clean up and dispose of the hazardous chemical mixture, Winn said.

Although “I have heard of other explosions that occurred because of the chemicals used,” Winn said, “I don’t think neighbors were at risk.”

Patrick County authorities have battled meth for decades.

“For many, many years, we have had meth issues here. It’s been in our county at least 20 years and has continuously gotten worse,” Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said. “It still is the predominate drug of choice, along with oxycontin and other pharmaceutical drug abuse.”

Smith said he has seen basically “two types of meth dealers. First, the vast majority of meth supplied in this region has origins with the Mexican Drug Cartel. It comes up and into the country through Texas and throughout the Southeast. It is distributed likewise.”

Generally, the drug comes through Surry and other adjacent counties in North Carolina, and “particularly, it comes up the I-77 corridor,” he said.

From there, the drug is distributed by larger drug dealers to smaller ones, through “either direct or indirect contact with Mexican drug organizations that also are known as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs),” Smith said. He added that type of drug is “known as commercial meth.”

The other type is “homemade meth that is made in clandestine meth labs,” Smith said. Many people think most of the meth in Patrick and other areas is made in those “homegrown meth labs, but that is a misconception. Most of it comes from large drug labs that filter up through the Southeast,” he added.

Patrick County Sheriff’s Sgt. of Special Investigations Eric O’Connell, who also is a member of the ATF Task Force in Roanoke, said meth “is such an impacting drug in so many ways that drugs that are in a similar league,” such as cocaine, don’t come close to creating the same effect. “Meth just takes it 10 steps higher than” something like crack cocaine.

Users have told O’Connell that “when they try meth, it’s the greatest thing ever” and provides a “jolt of energy. Many have reported being up for days,” he said. It also is highly addictive, he said.

“In Patrick County, meth is still the biggest problem because what it does for users that is so out of context” with the effects of other drugs, O’Connell said. “It’s like overcharging the battery” until the battery acid comes out.

When people become addicted, there is an uptick in personal property crimes such as breaking and entering to help pay for the habit, O’Connell said. Other crimes also increase, and “that just seems to go along with use.”

Authorities hope that educating the public about the associated risks of meth may help stem its growth, and they suggested that anyone who is using or contemplating using methamphetamine learn about the drug’s impact.

One website,, shows before and after photographs of users, and many are dramatically different, Winn said.

That is because meth use takes a toll on the entire body, according to authorities and

Use of the drug “almost has a direct negative impact on physical appearance,” Smith said. “It seems like overnight, a meth user’s physical appearance changes, and it’s important also to emphasize that.”

Acne appears or worsens, and because users obsessively pick at their skin because they feel bugs crawling beneath it, their faces tend to be covered in small sores and scarring, according to the website and Winn. A stimulant, meth suppresses appetite. Over time, that produces a gaunt and hollowed-out appearance.

But the toll doesn’t end there, according to Smith and Winn. The term “meth mouth” was coined to describe a condition created when the harsh chemicals in meth dissolve tooth enamel, shrink blood vessels in teeth and gums, prompt decay and decrease the production of saliva, according to authorities and the website.

The combination of those and other factors lead to an appearance of exaggerated aging, and “I think most people understand that it poses a huge threat,” Winn said. “Unfortunately, some continue to use and/or make it anyway. I don’t know why they continue to use it.”

“What I do know is that Patrick County has been battling it for years,” Winn said. “Unfortunately, it has migrated here, and we are battling it now.”


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