Urban Problems, Small Town

Crime increases, employers struggle as meth usage spreads

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Two months ago, the Payson Police Department responded to an incident where a man was firing a gun at numerous objects thinking people were after him.

In reality, there was no one chasing him, but the methamphetamines he was using convinced him otherwise.

This year alone, the police department made 32 search warrants for a variety of drug-related offenses.

An increasing number of residents in the Rim Country who are addicted to meth are changing the climate of what was once a safe community with a small-town atmosphere.

Meth addiction brings with it theft, violent crime, child neglect and domestic violence.

Jason Hazelo, special enforcement officer under the Meth Enforcement Program for the Payson Police Department said, this year, they have found seven children under the age of 10 who tested positive for meth, because their parents are smoking the drug in front of them.

Burglaries and thefts from residents and businesses continue to increase in the Rim Country as more and more people become addicted to meth.

Sgt. Dennis Buller of the Gila County Drug Task Force said, so far this year, they have found 547 grams of the drug.

He said a meth addict will do anything to get his or her hands on this drug. They will steal from friends and residents in the community, sell the drug in neighborhoods and sell their possessions.

He said dealing the drug presents problems because the addicts are entering neighborhoods, bringing other drug users into areas where children may be playing outside.

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Burglaries and thefts from residents and businesses continue to increase in the Rim Country as more and more people become addicted to meth.

Buller said there is a direct correlation between thefts and this narcotic drug, and added the majority of prison and jail inmates are there for meth use or a crime they committed while on the drug or searching for a way to be able to afford it.

"(Many) crimes circle back to meth," Buller said. "Meth is still the No. 1 drug. It's prevalent. It's easy to get, and it's very addictive."

The drug task force made 103 arrests this year, and the majority of those were for meth possession or sale.

He said the average taxpayer ends up paying out of his or her pocketbook because of meth addicts.

More law enforcement is needed, he said, which means an increase in taxes to pay for additional police officers.

Insurance rates are going up because more claims are being filed due to addicts stealing items from businesses and homes.

Buller said an addict, when stealing an item, is hoping to resell it for 10 cents on the dollar of its actual worth.

Violence is also a danger when an unsuspecting resident comes in contact with a person on meth.

Meth in the Rim Country

Story 1: Becoming an addict. Tuesday, Dec. 5

Story 2: What meth is doing to this community. Today

Story 3: Meth addicts get their lives back. Tuesday, Dec. 12

Rita Regalado, a recovering addict, remembers almost killing her girlfriend while high on meth on more than one occasion, because she was hallucinating that phone calls were being made.

"It makes you psychotic," she said. "It just messes with your mind."

Buller said when an individual gets strung out on meth, he or she will become agitated and very aggressive.

"Their inhibitions are down and they are more apt to shoot or harm someone because they are high," he said.

Julie Craig, the facilitator for the Gila County Meth Coalition and executive assistant for the Gila County Sheriff's Office, said when a teenager starts to use meth they typically steal from family members to pay for their addiction. Those cases are rarely reported to law enforcement.

"If it is teens, they are going to get into moms' and dads' purse (or wallet)," she said.

Craig said, in some cases, young women are turning to prostitution to make some money to feed their addiction.

She added that meth addicts cannot hold down jobs, but have to find some way to find money to buy the drug.

"It is going to cause an increase in property crime and violent crime," Craig said.

Jeff Gray, executive director of the Rim Guidance Center, said addicts become suspicious of things and individuals around them. He said it is a little surprising to know a meth addict could live a block away or be a next-door neighbor.

Darlene Duncan, prevention coordinator and community liaison for Rim Guidance Center said an addict will not hesitate to steal a person's identity for financial gain.

Meth addicts get behind the wheel and put the whole community at risk with their erratic driving, she said. The hallucinations often lead to extreme acts of violence, mentioning one addict who kidnapped and set his daughter on fire.

"There is no rationale when someone is on meth," she said. "Everyone in the community is at risk."

See related story:

'Meth was my best friend' (Dec. 5)

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