By Ryan Lengerich
CLOVIS — District Attorney Matt Chandler has teamed up with law enforcement officials and area retailers to curb sales of products commonly used to manufacture methamphetamines.
On Thursday, Chandler announced the kickoff to Meth Watch, a program alerting store retailers to consumers purchasing or stealing suspicious amounts of products used in the illicit making of the highly addictive stimulant.
Meth use has plagued law enforcement in Curry and Roosevelt counties, Chandler said, amounting to an average of 20 meth labs busted annually since 2001.
Common meth-making ingredients include aluminum foil, starter fluid, paint thinner, iodine, benzene, cold medicine and ephedrine.
“Contrary to popular belief, methamphetamines and the use of meth … is not a big city problem,” said Chandler, who touted the program in March during his Republican primary campaign. “It is more of a small town America problem.”
Under the plan, retail employees will be trained to spot consumers potentially purchasing meth-related products. Small tags near the items’ pricing information will mark the products and store owners are asked to place the items in view of security cameras.
A phone number, 762-METH, has been established to link law enforcement to retailers.
“I think one of the key issues to getting people to understand what meth is, is getting people to understand what it is made out of,” Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher said. “We have to depend on the community to help us out. This has become an epidemic.”
Originally developed in Kansas, Meth Watch has spread throughout communities nationwide. Chandler said the Meth Watch program in the 9th Judicial District will be the first of its kind in New Mexico.
Statewide, meth lab busts have risen from 50 in 2000 to 190 in 2003, Chandler said.
Law enforcement officials Thursday arranged a table with tools and ingredients needed to make common forms of meth. Chandler said the items were purchased for less than $100 from area stores Wednesday evening.
Chandler called meth “a drug of convenience and a drug of choice.”
A member of the Meth Watch advisory board, Clovis resident Sid Strebeck said he has seen adults and children from strong families lose a grip on life after getting hooked on meth, which has become a profitable business for some because ingredients are accessible.
“It is too easy (to make) money for people, and they are going to go the way of least resistance, and we don’t need to be the place of least resistance,” Strebeck said.
Perhaps what makes methamphetamine production so dangerous, officials say, is the toxic and explosive ingredients used in production. About 18 percent of all meth labs are discovered through fire or explosion, Chandler said.
Curry County Commissioner Ed Perales said the Meth Watch could decrease jail population because the program is proactive.
“What they were doing before is cracking down and arresting people,” Perales said. “This way we will prevent people from getting the product. This way they will never get arrested.”
Meth withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression and intense cravings.
“If we can develop a paranoia throughout our district I believe we can put a nice dent into those developing methamphetamines,” Chandler said.
He said his goal is to eliminate meth manufacturing in Curry and Roosevelt counties by next year.
“I hate to push our problems elsewhere,” he said. “But we must take care of our own back yard first. This program will allow us to do this.”