By BRIAN HOWEY
NASHVILLE, Ind. —
In small town and rural Indiana, you can see the gaunt, ghost people. They have rotting teeth. They drive beat up pickup trucks and old Pontiacs, sometimes with kids standing in the backseat. They can be tracked on a ritual tour of drug stores in the tri-county area.
And when they do their work, the crude harvest is methamphetamine, or crystal meth. The cooking pots are often discarded behind the trailer, or down in the creek, or along side the county road. Sometimes the motel they’re in explodes and burns.
In Indiana: The Methamphetamine State! 2013 was a despicable and banner year, following 2012 that had us ranked only behind Missouri and Tennessee in meth production. According to Indiana State Police statistics, 1,808 labs were busted, up from 1,437 in 2011 and 803 in 2006. Of course, the cops don’t get all of the labs busted. There are probably four or five times that amount chugging out crystal meth at any given time.
In 2004 when Our Man Mitch had barnstormed across the state in his RV1, there were 1,137 lab busts and the future governor heard all about it from the local cops and social agencies. The year 2006 was a bit of an anomaly, as the Indiana General Assembly passed laws trying to crimp the bitter harvest by limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine purchased over the counter at CVS or Walgreens.
By the time Gov. Daniels left office there were 1,726 lab busts and the county jails were filling up with broken cooks and their pregnant old ladies.
The remedy is not working.
The 2013 stats are particularly appalling because 458 kids were found on the lab premises, up from 388 in 2012, 185 in 2009 and 125 in 2007.
When it comes to death inside a meth lab, 27 adults were killed, including four in police action shootings, two in pursuit crashes, 10 in explosions, two suicides and three homicides. There were two kids killed and 13 injured, including seven burned in fires, 1 chemical burn, four exposed to chemical vapors and one poor young soul who swallowed chemicals.
There were 100 law enforcement officials injured in Indiana’s meth industry. Repeat, 100 cops injured.
All of this mayhem and action could make a great Hoosier version of “Breaking Bad,” the TV show that entertained so many of us over the past several years.
How had the Indiana General Assembly dealt with this so far this session?
Three bills that would have required prescriptions for the purchase ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, reclassifying them as controlled substances, appear to have died in the House Public Health and Courts and Criminal Code Committees, and another in Senate Correction & Courts. Only one bill — HB1248 by Rep. Ben Smaltz — got a hearing. It appears there wasn’t enough time to deal with the legislation, the House having been quite busy with the constitutional marriage amendment and feral cat bills.
Terre Haute Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher and Officer Ryan Adamson testified on HB1248 about how rescheduling pseudoephedrine as a controlled substance will reduce the clandestine production of meth. “I don’t think the issue is going to go away,” Gallagher told the Tribune-Star, “and I can only hope that each time I testify, a few more legislators will get turned around on the issue.”
And Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt told the Tribune-Star, “It’s our problem as far as the meth epidemic in this area, and if we can get our local officials to make it prescription-only by local rule, then it takes that decision out of state hands, and we can deal with it here.”
Indiana prosecutors, pubic defenders, police chiefs and the Indiana State Police Alliance all favor the restrictions. The Consumer Health Care Association opposes, and they have one hell of a lobbying team at the Statehouse.
According to Justin Swanson of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Tennessee now allows 18 local communities to restrict over the counter sales and meth lab production has been reduced between 44 and 77 percent in those locales. A Vanderbilt University Poll in December revealed 65 percent support across all party lines.
But the rescheduling in Indiana is not to be.
Asked about the statistics on Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence said, “Clearly we have work to do. We have no higher duty than public safety.” He added, “It’s going to take a coordinated effort.”
Just not this year.
The House did pass a bill by State Rep. Wendy McNamara that requires that property that was once a site for meth labs or a dumping ground for the drug be listed on a website until 90 days after it was certified decontaminated. McNamara sponsored the bill after a home appraiser was sickened by a former meth lab in the course of his work.
It’s kind of a CarFax for homes. It attempts to address a symptom of the epidemic. It is not a cure.
Nothing against the McNamara bill, but in essence, the General Assembly this year is prepared only to deal with the fallout of crystal meth, as opposed to doing something to stop or limit its production.
But let’s give the General Assembly credit. At least we’re making some inroads on the feral cat issue.
— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.