The discovery of two methamphetamine labs earlier this month in McDowell County was another reminder of the emerging meth threat facing the mountains of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.
The two meth labs were located within a span of two weeks, netting three arrests. An active investigation into the discovery of the meth labs continues, according to McDowell County Sheriff Martin West. The discovery of the two meth labs in McDowell County adds another wrinkle to the region’s rampant drug problem, which up until now has been largely focused on the alarming epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
But the arrival of the meth threat in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia has long been expected and feared. Meth is now slowly making its way into the region, according to Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash.
“For some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, our addicts seem to prefer pills to methamphetamine,” Ash said last week. “However, I am afraid that is coming to an end. We have certainly been dreading meth coming, because it was more of a problem in the Midwest and California for a long time. You sort of saw it coming this way. But why the explosion right now? I have no idea. We haven’t busted many, but there have been two in the last 18 months.”
Ash says the business model for manufacturing meth is different than the business model used by dealers peddling prescription narcotics.
“The Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force is always on the alert for this,” Ash said last week of meth. “This is a lot different than the prescription drug problem. You don’t have one person coming in with 100 or 500 people. You have people making small amounts for themselves and for a few others. It’s retail rather than wholesale, so it’s a different economic background than we are experiencing with prescription narcotics.”
Complicating matters is the fact that the chemicals used to manufacture meth are relatively easy to find and purchase. However, meth is highly volatile, and the manufacturing process can be deadly not only for those making the drug, but anyone who comes into contact with the site of a meth lab. Since the process of making meth can be volatile, it costs the county much more money to clean up the site of a lab rather than a site where drugs like marijuana or prescription pills have been discovered, according to West. West estimates it can cost $30,000 to $40,000 to safely condemn houses where meth labs are found, and that cost sometimes must be incurred by the individual county.
West is looking to train more county deputies on dealing with meth before the problem grows. At the moment, members of the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force are the main officers in the area trained to properly clean areas exposed to meth.
West is correct in working to train additional deputies on how to deal with this emerging threat. We need to take proactive steps today to address the meth problem before it reaches the epidemic levels that we are seeing with the region’s prescription drug abuse problem.