(Note: The Elkhart Truth in northern Indiana recently did a series on how meth affects a community especially in tough economic times. This particular series is part of the MSNBC Elkhart Project, which focuses on how a small Midwestern town is surviving current economic conditions. While much of the information in this article was gleaned from the series, incidents and circumstances described could happen anywhere in the U.S.)
For those who don’t know, Elkhart, Ind. is the RV manufacturing capital of the United States and possibly the world. Set in the middle of Amish country where woodworking craftsmen abound, the RV industry has been particularly hard hit with the current economic downturn. In 1988, meth entered Elkhart County and set the industry on its ear.
Local law enforcement officials feel Mexican super labs targeted Elkhart because of its close proximity to Interstate 80/90 and nearly mid-point location between Detroit and Chicago. Through a series of enforcement operations, several of the cartels were virtually stopped. Once the “outside” supply was diminished, local residents who had developed a habit went in to business for themselves, giving enforcement officials a different kind of situation to deal with. Small one-horse labs were a lot more difficult to track and shut down, putting local communities at even greater risk.
Meth is a high-powered stimulant that appeals to long distance over-the-road truck drivers as well as the manufacturing factory workers. The initial objective was increased productivity. In the beginning RV factory supervisors commented that meth allowed the workers to work faster. But that observation was short lived as workers started on a downward spiral and began to use more of the drug resulting in addiction and loss of employment.
One such employee admits he stayed up for months at a time, not eating just going crazy and hallucinating. He said, “You start doing things you wouldn’t normally do and stop caring about things you should be caring about.” He eventually turned to crime to support his habit and is currently incarcerated in an Indiana prison. Even though this subject is from the Midwest, his story covers a multitude of similar incidents in nearly every county in every state nationwide. The resulting complications from meth use are a national problem.
Another component to the problem in this ailing economy is the housing, medical care and rehabilitation for those sentenced on drug-related issues. Inmates with mouths full of corroding teeth, suffering from kidney damage or skin lesions escalate health care costs into the tens of thousands of dollars for already over-burdened budgets, especially those in the criminal justice system.
One way to possibly offset these expenditures is to put more money into prevention. Unfortunately, funding for these types of programs also takes a huge hit in difficult economic times. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for every $1 spent on prevention, $7 is saved on criminal justice costs. The bad news is tax dollars are used to pay for these services and right now there has been a significant decrease in those assets. They are simply not available. In the meantime detention facilities continue to fill up.
A third issue that affects a community and arises from a direct result of meth production is property cleanup after a meth lab is busted. Meth can be produced almost anywhere, in car trunks, in RVs, alongside of a road, in the middle of a park or field, in any kitchen sink or bathtub, even in a boat. There’s just no limit to where a person can manufacture the drug. Though the most common place for cooking it would likely be a home, apartment or building of some sort, some manufactures have gone mobile.
Many states have passed laws governing hazardous materials cleanup after a lab bust. The downside is that while the property owner is responsible, there are no laws enforcing a time limit on how long the owner can take to get the cleanup accomplished. In fact, a home, apartment or building can remain vacant indefinitely. All across the country there are unoccupied buildings that formerly contained meth labs.
When meth is cooked, the poisonous and dangerous chemicals produced are absorbed into clothing, bedding, furniture, appliances, flooring, any type of porous materials or surface areas, essentially everything in the structure. All these items have to be disposed of, and because they contain hazardous materials, there are specific laws on how this is to be done. Next the structure itself has to be decontaminated and thoroughly cleaned and inspected before it can be inhabited again. Even the heating/cooling and septic systems are involved. Of course this costs money and usually, but not always, specially trained people to accomplish the task. If the property owner is fortunate, at least part of the cleanup costs may be covered by insurance.
Last, but certainly not least, is the effect meth has on the family unit. In Elkhart there are currently 450 children in need of services and involved with the welfare system. Of these, approximately 80 percent to 90 percent are a direct result of addiction in the home according to a local magistrate. Indiana law requires parents relinquish their parental rights after they have been out of the home environment for as little as 15 months up to 22 months as a maximum. Recovering from a meth addiction takes a full two years or more. In Indiana and many other states across the country, the children are put at extreme risk when parents or older siblings get addicted to drugs in general and meth in particular.
Meth is cheap and easily obtained. People are turning to it as a means of escape not realizing the harm it can do. Meth is devastating to families. It’s shocking to realize how many children test positive for meth because it’s in the home.
The Gila County Meth Coalition is committed to educating the public about the dangers of using meth. Our goal is to eradicate the drug from our community. Anyone interested in having a presentation given to their group or organization is encouraged to contact one of the members listed below.
For questions or more information, contact chair Claudia DalMolin at the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, (928) 425-4440; co-chair Bianca DalMolin, (928) 701-1790; facilitator Misty Cisneros, (928) 425-1879; or media liaison Lu DuBois, (928) 402-4321.
Presented by the Gila County Meth Coalition