Some of Arizona's most hardened drug agents were left nervously shifting in their seats after watching a film clip that explored the horrific impact methamphetamine has on children raised in illegal labs.
"That was too real, ugly and disgusting," an undercover agent said. "Something must be done to protect the innocent children."
The film, produced by a Denver, Colo. law enforcement agency, was shown Feb. 13 and 14 to about 700 participants attending Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard's "A Call of Action" statewide meth conference.
Among the more than 20 experts who stepped up to the podium to provide insights into dangers of methamphetamines and pseudoephedrines was one of the most renowned authors, lecturers and child-care workers in the country.
Jerry Moe, the National Director of Children's Programs at the Betty Ford Center, offered the audience an up-close and personal insight into the devastating impact meth labs have on children.
Payson High School teacher Bob Hoyt was among those attending Moe's presentation.
"He was awesome," Hoyt said. "I wish we could somehow get him to come to Payson; he has such an impact."
Payson Town Councilor Tim Fruth agreed, characterizing Moe as "dynamic and to the point."
During Moe's emotional one-hour presentation, he described how kids cope in a family environment in which addiction exists, and how some often repeat the family legacy for another generation.
His presentation, however, wasn't all doom and gloom.
Moe provided key strategies, messages and resources for helping youngsters find a path to help, hope and healing.
Some from the four-person Payson contingent of the Gila County Meth Coalition questioned whether meth was a serious problem in the Rim Country.
Gila County Narcotics Task Force Commander Steve Craig and agent Jimmy Oestmann quickly responded with a definitive "yes" answer. They pointed to busts that have recently been made, including a Jan. 16 arrest on Airline Road in which Child Protective Services took custody of a 2-year-old and 3-month-old.
Also, in mid-December, police arrested a Star Valley motel manager for possession of meth.
Among the most disturbing meth cooks uncovered locally was a makeshift anhydrous ammonia methamphetamine lab lodged in a cave northeast of Payson. The sight of it sent chills down the spines of the three GCTF agents sent to investigate.
"This is dangerous stuff," one said. "One whiff of it can do serious damage."
The most seasoned of the undercover agents, a 20-year veteran, said it was the first meth lab of this kind he'd seen in northern Gila County.
"It's not good that stuff is up here now," he said. "It's (anhydrous ammonia) a key ingredient in the illegal production of methamphetamines."
With discovery of the anhydrous ammonia, task force agents were immediately notified, and asked for assistance from several other law enforcement agencies. In less than a day, agents from the High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA), the Department of Public Safety Explosive Ordinance Detail, a Department of Public Safety chemist and a hazardous materials team were on the scene.
Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath told the conference audience that the use of anhydrous ammonia in making meth had been more prevalent in the Midwest -- where the substance is more readily available in farming fertilizers.
"But, we are seeing more and more of it in the West," he said.
The trio of GCNTF agents who investigated the cave lab breathed a sigh of relief after finally handing the dangerous chemicals over to the Environmental Protection Agency. The three said they were comforted that the ammonia was not first found by children or others not knowing its danger.
"It's very toxic, a health hazard and can kill," the agent said.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard wrapped up the conference held at the Wyndham Hotel in Phoenix by challenging the audience to step up and join the fight against meth.
"Methamphetamine abuse is destroying lives, killing law enforcement officers, leaving children without parents, generating waves of crime in our neighborhoods, flooding our hospitals with patients, filling our jails with criminals and poisoning our environment," he said. "Arizona has to take action to stop the local labs."
Among his suggestions on playing a role in the fight against meth was for voters to implore their representatives to pass House Bill 2815. The legislation would take specific measures to limit meth producers' access to pseudoephedrine -- the key ingredient necessary to manufacture meth.