Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 27, 2013

Meth hits the mountains

Part 1 of 2

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — While prescription drug abuse has long been the focus of law enforcement agencies in southern West Virginia, officials are starting to see signs of a new drug invading the area — methamphetamine.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said meth has been slowly making its way across the country and into West Virginia.

“We have had a few busts, but not many,” Ash said. “For some reason, unbeknownst to anyone, our addicts seem to prefer pills to methamphetamine. 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 said 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. “This is a lot different than 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.”

McDowell County Sheriff Martin West said meth has not been much of an issue in the past, but in the last month alone the sheriff’s department has arrested three men in connection with two meth labs in the War area.

“There have been three labs total, but there are several investigations we have going on that we cannot really talk about right now,” West said. “We are following up on a lot of tips, names and locations we have been given. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more in the future. It has become a definite concern for us. The problem has escalated here and in other counties because there is a lack of money to address this issue. We have to find money and a means to address these problems.”

West said the chemicals used to manufacture meth are relatively easy to find and purchase.

“Tips have been coming in and we are taking them seriously,” West said. “Meth labs are so easy to set up because the materials can be bought over the counter, at drug stores and grocery stores. It seems easy to make and sell, but a lot of people don’t understand how dangerous it is.”

However, West said many manufacturers do not realize the manufacturing process can be dangerous and even deadly, not only for those making the drug but anyone who comes into contact with the site of a meth lab.

“This stuff once it is mixed and made, it goes into the walls, ceilings, the floors and into the ground,” West said. “If the garbage man comes to pick up the trash and anything from the lab is disposed in the garbage, it could affect the garbage man. It can get into the water system and impact people that way. It is serious, and we are treating it as a major problem because it can impact so many people.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com