Portales residents can help battle meth epidemic

Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Methamphetamine is described by law enforcement as the biggest social crisis in America today. Thursday at the Portales Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon, attendees learned more about the problem and a few easy ways to deter it in the community.

Capt. Lonnie Berry of the Portales Police Department described the social severity of the problem by asking the crowd to imagine a person being killed for a pack of cigarettes. He says that meth addicts can and have gotten just that far out of touch with reality.

Methamphetamine doesn’t discriminate, but occurs in all parts of the city — north, south, everywhere, said Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler. “We’ve found it everywhere from crack houses to a preacher’s house in this area.”

Chandler told the group that methamphetamine was first refined from the ephedrine plant during World War II. Adolph Hitler wanted his chemists to come up with a drug to help his soldiers on the battlefield. Once his soldiers started using the drug they reacted without fear and needed little sleep or food.

“They were described like fighting zombies,” said Chandler. “They were 10 feet tall and bulletproof. That’s what law enforcement is dealing with today.”

Chandler went on to detail the irrational behavior and lack of emotion displayed by several methamphetamine addicts convicted in New Mexico of violent crimes. From one man who decapitated his own son and tossed the head out along the highway because he thought the boy was possessed by demons to another who had to be shot seven times before he was incapacitated enough to deter his attack on a police officer.

Berry said he feels there are three pieces that go into solving the problem; law enforcement, mandatory sentencing and rehabilitation. Of those three facets he says the one we’re doing the worst at is rehabilitation, quoting a success rate with meth addicts of just four percent nationwide.

“We’ve got to bring that percentage up,” said Berry. “We’ve got to do a better job on rehab.”

He told the group that while overdoses can occur with methamphetamine use, it is more common for users to instead suffer a slow debilitation over several years. He said meth addicts typically have sever dental problems and he even knows a local woman who had a stroke at age 23.

Berry said his department has made 65 total arrests in the last four and a half months and of that number he was able to link 58 of those cases either directly or indirectly with methamphetamine.

“That’s a lot of meth out there, folks,” said Berry. “There are a lot of people affected by that. It’s not Mr. Chandler’s problem, it’s not law enforcement’s problem. It’s going to take the village.”

With budgets getting tighter for law enforcement groups like the Region V Task Force, of which Berry’s department is a member, he and Chandler are looking for creative ways to fight the problem.

Among those methods are a new ordinance recently passed by Portales City Council prohibiting sale of certain cold medicines with pseudoephedrine over the counter in stores. Discussion of that action drew several comments and questions from the crowd but no complaints from the business leaders on the restrictions.

Both law enforcement agencies have programs in the schools both for education as well as intervention in situations where children are either involved in making or taking methamphetamine or where they are in danger by being in a home where the drug is being made or used.
“Seventy seven percent of children found in meth labs will test positive for meth,” said Chandler. “And 33 percent of labs have children in them.”

Chandler and Berry urged people to watch for signs of meth labs by noticing strong odors similar to ether or cat urine, watch trash receptacles for large numbers of antifreeze and containers that are unusual and to be aware of unusual activity at a neighboring residence or blacked-out windows.

Chandler’s office has also produced a door-hanger informational piece that tells residents what to look for if you suspect a meth lab. It will be distributed in coming weeks by supervised participants in the Pre-prosecution Aversion Program.

“The bottom line is we need community help,” said Chandler. “Meth has started in rural areas and slipped into the cities. But I’m telling you it has a death grip on our nation. It’s the nucleus of all our crimes.

“If we can beat this problem you all are going to be a lot safer.”