Lowered street costs of methamphetamine have increased the use of the drug in Sebastian County, a local official says.
Sebastian County Chief Deputy Hobe Runion says meth, which has a street price that has dropped more than 25 percent per pound, is "trending up" in use. Runion and Paul Smith, director of the 12th and 21st District Drug Task Force, say the source of this upward trend and downward cost is the trafficking of the drug into the county.
Runion said the manufacturing of meth plummeted after the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which banned the over-the-counter sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth. Since then, meth has come from Mexican cartels, Runion said, and geographically from "source cities" like Dallas, Oklahoma City and Houston, Smith said.
Smith said between 3-4 pounds of meth are seized in Sebastian and Crawford counties each month, on average. He said if highway seizures in Crawford County are included, about 25 pounds of meth, on average, are seized in the two counties each quarter.
Meth cases have comprised "about half" of all drug cases in the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office in 2018, Runion said.
Supply and demand
Like the upward trend of meth, its costs are also due to the way in which it is now most commonly trafficked and produced, Runion and Smith said.
Runion said meth that has been trafficked into Sebastian County in recent history is typically produced in "industrial-grade laboratories." Though the meth from these labs might be less potent than meth produced in a home lab, it can be produced in much larger quantities, he said.
This kind of production, Runion said, has increased supply and lowered demand.
"These are people who are taking the raw products from the beginning and, in the chemical process, stripping them to make methamphetamine," Runion said. "They’re putting out a lot of it, and we’re seeing a lot of it.”
Smith said the local street cost of meth has dropped from $16,000-$18,000 per pound to about $12,000-$10,000 per pound in recent history. He said he has even seen the value drop in the last 6-10 months.
Local meth distributors are now typically supplied by larger distributors in source cities, Smith said. He said the local dealers then have to compensate the large-scale distributors who supplied them with the drug through money they make selling it.
This market dynamic often results in local drug dealers accumulating debt, Smith said.
“It’s really kind of shocking to us, because what we’ve seen is, people in our area who we considered big time distributors, they had to have the money to sell the product," Smith said. "Now distributors are saying, ‘I can push it to them, put them in debt, and make them have to supply more.’"
An addictive sale
The existence of the meth market in Sebastian County lies in the addictive nature of the drug itself, Runion said.
The Drug Enforcement Agency states that meth is a "highly addictive drug with potent central nervous system properties." It can be inhaled through the nose, ingested orally, injected or smoked, the DEA states.
Chronic users may exhibit violent behavior, confusion, anxiety, insomnia, aggression, hallucinations and delusions, the DEA states.
Though Runion said why anyone would try meth in the first place is "the million-dollar question," he said a number of factors could come into play for first-time use.
"There are some people who are predisposed to do these things. There is going to be a percentage of the population," Runion said. "Everybody thinks he or she is smarter or stronger-willed than the other person, and I also think there have been a lot of studies done about gateway drugs. Who knows if they were on anything else when they used it for the first time?”
Once a person tries meth, it is difficult to get him or her off of it, Runion said. Smith said local meth distributors will sometimes give potential customers a "taste" or small quantity, of the drug in hopes that they will get hooked on it and eventually buy it.
“Their incentive is to keep people addicted, because an addicted customer is going to come back time and time again, and to broaden their customer base," Smith said.
“I have talked to a lot of people who were addicts over the years, and it’s not all of them or even over half, but a large percentage of them would tell me, ‘The first time I used it, that was it. I was hooked,'" Runion said.
Runion said meth users usually have to go through rehabilitation programs multiple times before kicking their habits. He estimated meth users who go through rehab for the first time have a 5 percent success rate when it comes to staying off of it.
The addictive nature of meth, combined with the lowered street costs and increased supply, is cause for concern, Runion said.
"Among the addicts, I think it is an alternative that could be very inexpensive," Runion said. "There are people who will use anything to change their outlooks on life, whether that’s alcohol, whether that’s opioids, whether that’s meth."
Taking away the market
Like other abused substances, addressing meth trafficking and abuse requires addressing the issue on all sides, Runion and Smith said.
Smith said the trafficking and use of meth, like other drugs, has "many tentacles," including crime. He said the criminal element of meth is an incentive to attack the problem.
"That person who’s addicted has to purchase that substance, so he or she has to either shoplift, has to break into homes or houses, has to break into vehicles, has to commit armed robberies or has to commit violence," Smith said, adding he also hopes the street value of meth doesn't dip any further than it already has.
Smith said law enforcement officials can take away the meth market by helping people who are addicted to the drug. He and Runion said this assistance is often through drug court or veterans' court.
As for meth dealers, Smith and Runion are not nearly as sympathetic.
“The people who are dealing, who do this for a profit? That’s what the penitentiaries are for," Smith said.
Smith also said he and other law enforcement agencies in the area need to keep a working relationship with the DEA. He said this will help identify if the drug is being trafficked into the area.
Like he has said about other drugs, Runion said addressing meth trafficking abuse comes down to "education, legislation, treatment and enforcement." He specifically said Sebastian County and the surrounding areas could use more treatment for people who are addicted to meth.
"What we are seeing on the criminal justice side is a real push for treatment, for better and stronger drug courts, and that’s helpful," Smith said. "That helps us get these people who are just the low-level addicts that are feeding this distribution chain, it helps us stop that.”