SOUTHERN INDIANA — A recent Indiana State Police report shows a continual drop in meth labs seized statewide in the last five years, and local counties are in line with those numbers.
In 2013, there were 1,808 labs seized across the state, dropping to 1,452 in 2015, 943 in 2016 and 371 statewide in 2017.
Clark and Floyd counties trended along the same line, with 31 and 30, respectively, in 2013 down to zero in Clark County in 2017 and one in Floyd County.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said the drop is due in part to more public education and awareness of labs and more focus from law enforcement. But part of it, he said, could be attributed to more people using heroin instead and more meth coming in from across the Southern border of the United States.
“There’s going to be people using methamphetamine, if they can use it,” Goodin said. “For some, it’s just the drug of choice and unfortunately now a lot of it is coming in through Central and South America.
“It’s coming in such mass quantities that they’re able to sell it on the street so cheap that in a lot of cases, it’s not really worth the effort for somebody to try to make meth.”
He said fewer meth labs are a positive for the community. It reduces the risk for fire and for the drug to affect those in neighborhoods where it’s being manufactured.
It’s also lowered the cost of cleanup, Goodin said. Some of the smallest meth labs, which could be nothing more than a soda bottle with chemicals added to react until the methamphetamine is produced, can cost up to $5,000 to professionally clean the area where they have been used.
Part of the rise in individuals manufacturing their own meth in the last decade came after police began targeting dealers, Goodin said. When people began making their own on a smaller scale to use or distribute, law enforcement educated the public about what to look for — the smell of sulfur, large quantities of ephedrine packets, containers of starter fluid — and investigated those tips.
New state laws required businesses and pharmacies to put controls on selling pseudoephedrine in large quantities or without identification.
Goodin said law enforcement has had to shift how it tackles the meth issue.
“We’ve gotten pretty good at locating meth labs and educating the public on that, now it goes back to [dealers] transporting it in,” he said.
The focus now is to stop drug trafficking at the source through “Operation Total Eclipse,” an ISP initiative rolled out in 2017 to target dealers.
“Ever since then, we’ve really been hitting the drug dealers hard,” Goodin said. “We’re really concentrated on slowing the movement of illegal drugs throughout our district and we’re going to continue to do that.”
Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said an increase in meth and cocaine possession has occurred over the past several years, but not in the number of labs. He thinks the rise in meth use is a result from the crackdown on opioid pills, which has been a catalyst in the rise in heroin use across the United States.
To fully address the drug issues across the state and the country, he said, calls for legislation that stays ahead of the game, as well as the efforts of law enforcement.
“It’s supply and demand,” he said. “People here want the drugs and people are going to continue to bring it in.”
He also said that Clark, Floyd and Harrison counties may have a different skew to drug numbers compared to other Indiana counties, based on their proximity to a bigger city.
“Keep in mind that most of the people in three counties, they go to Louisville to get their drugs,” he said.
Lt. Col. Scottie Maples of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department also credits the public and a focus on law enforcement targeting methamphetamine manufacturers for the five-year drop.
“Back in 2013, 2014, you’d see more meth than heroin; that seemed like the drug trend at the time,” he said. He added that people would call in, reporting the smell of a potential meth lab. “We would get multiple calls like that because the community doesn’t want meth labs around their houses,” he said. “They’re dangerous.”
Working as a team with other local departments, the office also has stepped up its efforts against dealers in general, Maples said, part of Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel’s focus to attack drugs at their source.
So while it’s good to have fewer meth labs, that doesn’t mean the war is won, he said.
“We’re happy that the number is zero [for 2017] but we’re not going to lose sight or focus,” he said. “Just because that number is zero doesn’t mean we’re not going to be looking for methamphetamine, as well as heroin.”