Officials: Meth making a comeback in WV
HUNTINGTON — Officials said the number of methamphetamine cases in West Virginia is making a tremendous and deadly comeback, but long gone are the days of cooking the potent stimulant in trailers or in backpacks beside the road.
The production of meth is now being outsourced to sophisticated laboratories in countries like Mexico or China and then carted into the state. The result is a more powerful drug that goes hand-in-hand with West Virginia’s ongoing battle against opioid addiction. Law enforcement officials, who are seeing a leveling-off period of opioid addiction cases, must now deal with the new threat in the uptick of meth.
The number of meth-related cases is increasing because dealers who formerly dealt opioids, particularly heroin and fentanyl, realized overdoses are bad for business, said Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District.
“What we saw is a move by suppliers to make sure their market share wasn’t dying off,” Stuart said.
Numbers show opioid use is slowly declining, but those same dealers have replaced their heroin and fentanyl with meth, he said. The meth is coming from increasingly sophisticated operations, too.
“Today’s meth is not the meth of the ‘bake house’ era,” Stuart said. “This is not the same meth we saw five to eight years ago in small communities.”
Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said the number of meth cases that police officers are coming into contact with is increasing, but heroin is still the city’s deadly drug of choice.
“We are seeing meth along with the opioids,” Dial said. “It seems to be an add-on drug for some people. Dealers seem to be having both.”
It is rare for officers to come into contact with meth production, he said. Most of the meth in the city is being imported from cities like Atlanta, Dayton or Detroit. The meth is first brought there by drug cartels from countries like Mexico.
This is a common trend across the country, which is also seeing a leveling-off of opioid use, said Mary McCarty-Arias, senior trainer for the Northeast and Caribbean Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network.
McCarty-Arias spent two days this past week at Marshall University hosting training sessions with community members about how to recognize and deal with meth addiction. She met with a dozen current and future social workers, caseworkers, psychologists and counselors.
People get addicted to meth because of its perceived benefits, she said.
“One of the things about drugs is people use them initially because they work. If they didn’t work, they would not use them,” she said. “The perceived benefit about meth appears like something you would want to have, and I say that facetiously.”
Getting someone off a meth addiction is extremely difficult and does not resemble scarier side effects often seen with opioid withdrawal, she said. Meth withdrawal tends to resemble depression and lethargy.
There are several barriers for people to get treatment, she said, such as a lack of insurance to pay for detox services. West Virginians who live in rural areas might find it difficult to get access to treatment.
Stuart said there is a larger effort now among law enforcement to see drug addiction as a health crisis.
“Law enforcement has a pretty good balance today in realizing that addicts are not the enemy. Drug thugs and dealers are the enemy,” he said.
Stuart said one of the key solutions in battling drug addiction is attacking supply and demand. Part of that is talking to young people to prevent them from getting addicted. Another part is to go after the dealers and cut off the supply chain.
“My focus has been taking them off the street and putting them behind bars where they belong,” he said.
Travis Crum Is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.