Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that affects the brain and central nervous system. It comes in a powder form, which is commonly referred to as “crystal Meth,” and a rock-like form, known as “ice.” It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or orally ingested. It produces an intense rush and high due to an increased release of dopamine into the section of the brain that controls pleasure. This “high” can last for up to twelve hours.
Methamphetamine is made using simple household items. Some of these items are relatively harmless by themselves. Those include pseudoephedrine (found in cold tablets), distilled water, and salt. Other items are highly toxic, including lye, ether, and camping fuel. These items are the main reason for the harsh long-term side effects of Methamphetamine use, including extreme weight loss, tooth rotting, and blood vessel damage. Many Meth users develop sores on their skin, caused mainly by scratching at bugs that they believe are crawling on or under their skin.
Northwest Arkansas has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest per capita Meth lab seizures in the nation. One of the advantages in making Meth is that, while it is relatively inexpensive to manufacture, it can result in decent profits for those who sell it. Because Meth can be manufactured using common household items, manufacturers can produce the drug from their own homes. However, due to the highly volatile nature of the ingredients, it is not uncommon for homes or businesses to be destroyed by fires or explosions caused by the manufacturing of Meth. A heat source is needed for most Meth productions, and the combination of heat and highly flammable precursors can lead to tragic results.
In response to the rising societal costs caused by Methamphetamine, the Arkansas State Legislature passed several new laws in its most recent session to combat the drug. Act 256 now requires that ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products (namely cold tablets) can only be sold in a licensed pharmacy. Individuals purchasing these products must show identification and sign a logbook kept by pharmacists to document the sale of these products. The Oklahoma Legislature passed an identical law last year, leading to an 80% reduction of lab seizures in that state. The purpose behind the law is to make pseudoephedrine, the only precursor that Meth cannot be made without, more difficult to obtain in the large quantities need to make Meth.
Act 1529 amended the arson statute to include fires or explosions caused in the course of and in furtherance of a felony. This allows prosecutors to charge individuals with arson when they recklessly burn down a residence or a business while making Meth. Previously, that individual could only be charged with criminal mischief, a Class D felony punishable up to six years in prison, regardless of how much damage may have been caused to the property of another. Now they can face a penalty proportionate to the damage they cause.
The Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has several approaches that we take in the fight against Methamphetamine. One option available to us is our Drug Court Program. This was begun several years ago in an attempt to slow down the rapid spread of drug use. Drug Court is available mainly to those people with non-violent criminal histories who have been arrested for drug offenses or drug-related offenses. In addition to the drug arrests we have seen, there has also been a rise in crimes which can be linked to Methamphetamine use, such as thefts, forgeries, and hot checks, just to name a few. Meth users often commit other crimes in order to satisfy their habit. This includes forging prescriptions, stealing money to feed their habit, and writing hot checks because other money is being used for Meth. Drug Court is an intensive nine-month program designed to get people off of Meth. It includes drug testing several times per week, along with group and individual sessions with drug counselors. Their progress is monitored in monthly status hearings before Washington County Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn. If a person successfully completes the Drug Court Program, their charges are dismissed. If not, they will usually be sentenced to prison and be required to complete the program upon release. Drug Court is only available to those people who have been arrested for simple possession of a controlled substance or some other nonviolent offense that can be traced to drug use. Except in extreme circumstances, those who make Meth or are arrested for selling drugs are not eligible for Drug Court.
The use of Methamphetamine takes a toll on more people that just those who use the drug. The effects are widespread, to the children of drug users and to those who are victimized by Meth users. The proliferation of Meth use is one of the primary reasons for the explosion of prison populations in the state of Arkansas. The influence of Methamphetamine has brought about an increase in the crime rate. Out of the 1,737 new felony cases filed in Washington County as of July 29, 2005, 349, or 20% are for possession of, delivery of, or manufacturing of Methamphetamine. It is impossible to determine the total number of new filings that are a direct result of Meth use, but it is safe to say that it would be more than 50%. That is why the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office remains committed in the fight against this dangerous drug.
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