Methamphetamine: Poor Man's Cocaine, Oklahoma’s New Problem

Tuesday, November 23rd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Law enforcement officials call it the poor man's cocaine. But it's especially popular among women because it kills the appetite. Methamphetamine is known on the street by various names including crank, speed, glass, ice or simply meth. It comes in many colors, but is usually in the form of a yellowish crystal powder or rock. It's a highly addictive, illegal drug that is no longer just a West Coast problem. Meth has moved into America's heartland.

Oklahoma narcotics officers busted nearly 600 meth labs in the Sooner state this year alone. Ninety per cent of those were found east of Interstate 35. The drug first got a foothold in California, but has now swept into Middle America and the middle class. "Addicts don't just smoke it, they inject it," said Tulsa Police major Bill Wells. "They get it into a solution and inject it into their bodies. It's an incredible drug, I guess."

The drug has the power to keep people awake for days at a time, and it is due to this fact that meth is often considered the drug of the hectic 90’s. A drug for people who feel they don't have enough time or energy to get everything done. More and more women are embracing the drug, due to its appetite-suppressing effect. Probably the most shocking statistic of the drug in Oklahoma, however, is the increase in the number of labs. Just three years ago, Tulsa narcotics officers worked twelve meth labs. That number nearly doubled the next year as well as last year. This year, officers expect to discover and shut down 125 labs.

The "cookers," street slang for the labs, have come up with an easier recipe that uses ephedrine, an ingredient in nasal decongestants. Criminals running a meth lab can buy everything needed to make meth at a local drug store. Then they can get directions on how to put it all together on the Internet. Major Wells says criminals use ingredients like Red Devil lye, Rotor Rooter drain cleaner, starter fluid, striker plates off matchbooks to get phosphorous, table salt and even over-the-counter cold medicine.

Why are meth labs are so popular? $600 worth of supplies could make $6000 dollars worth of meth. Although Oklahoma has a lot of labs, most of them are small enough to fit inside a cardboard box. "Most of them are 1 to 2 ounce meth labs, what we classify as Beavis and Butthead labs," said assistant district attorney Larry Edwards. "We find them in storage shelters, garages, houses, pretty much everywhere."

Police plan to fight back in Tulsa by first asking businesses to call police if someone buys the ingredients necessary to make meth in large quantities. Albertsons’ stores already follow this procedure. Second, police plan to get more narcotics detectives on the streets to keep up with the drug dealers. And third, the police department plans to train street officers about the dangers of the chemicals. Policemen on the street are usually the first to arrive at a crime scene. "They get this stuff on their shoes, on their uniform and where does it end up?," asked Wells. "In the officer's homes."

The chemicals are so deadly that every lab is treated by authorities as a hazardous materials site. The cookers who don't die in fires or explosions could have lung, kidney and brain damage resulting from the fumes. There is a price to pay if you are apprehended with meth. "It carries the highest minimum of any crime other than murder in the first degree," said Edwards. "The first offense is 20 years in prison with no parole."

Meth users risk everything to feed their habit, losing their heatlh, families, even their freedom. They cannot shake the craving for the meth “high” which becomes more important to them than anything else. That's why drug fighters say meth is no longer a nuisance or a problem. It is a full-blown epidemic, a tidal wave, crashing over our shores that threatens to drown society if it is not stopped. If you think the meth problem will not affect you, remember that addicts must feed their habit. Police say almost all of the addicts they encounter feed their habits by stealing cars, burglarizing houses, some even resorting to armed robbery. They also say they find meth labs in all sections of town, rich and poor.