By JOSH NEWTON
Local authorities believe they’ve seen a recent shift in the type of methamphetamine being used and distributed in Cherokee County.
National Methamphetamine Awareness Day is Nov. 30, part of a larger effort across the country to curb the use and sale of the drug and to educate the public about its effects.
“I think we have a meth problem in our county just like in most counties in the country,” said Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King. “You can find meth and meth labs anywhere, any day. As police officers, we can’t afford to come up with a social profile for where we think meth will be. We have to have our eyes open.”
Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said meth has been found in many places, “from nice neighborhoods to the slums.”
In recent years, authorities commonly uncovered large-scale meth labs, but today, one-pot labs – often called “shake-and-bake” labs – are made with readily available products and cooked inside small plastic containers, like a soda bottle.
“Old meth labs were like a large chemistry set and put off fumes that were easily noticeable,” said King. “So we used to have a lot of neighbors calling in to report possible labs. With the new system, detection by neighbors has gone way down because the smell of the fumes has gone way down.”
Over the past two years, locals have tried some of the first drug cases to appear before a Cherokee County jury. Several men and women accused of making or dealing large amounts of meth have been imprisoned either through trial or plea agreements with forced jail time.
Chennault said investigators see a new pattern emerging as some of the large-scale labs have been dismantled.
“There for a while we were dismantling several meth labs a week, but recently, there have been fewer,” said Chennault. “We are now seeing Mexican meth coming in. Mexican meth is higher grade – more crystal than it is powder – and has made it to where it’s easier to buy it than make it. It’s pretty much the same ingredients, but users say it’s a better quality of meth.”
Like other trends, Chennault said the flow of Mexican methamphetamine in Cherokee County could, with diligent enforcement efforts, eventually be cut off. But focusing on one epidemic could spawn another.
“The pipeline will be cut off eventually and people will probably go back to their Walmart way of making meth,” he said. “But when we focus on one problem and finally get it knocked down, it seems there will be another avenue open up while we are focused on that one problem.”
A recent study by José Luis León, a researcher for Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University, reported the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for 80 percent of the meth trade within the U.S.
According to a report on Fusion.net, León’s report indicates the number of meth labs seized in the U.S. was cut nearly in half from 2003 to 2006 because of Mexican cartels moving into the market.