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METH — A scourge on the local landscape
Methamphetamine still dominant drug in area
It was not that many years ago that counties across the nation, including Tulare County, were claiming to be the “meth capital of the world.”
That was when the federal government was willing to pour billions of dollars into the drug war. Today, those claims are not made, but methamphetamine is still widely used and crippling many citizens throughout the nation, including Porterville.
“It’s every bit as prevalent as I’ve ever seen it,” said Tulare County Superior Court Judge Glade Roper of Porterville who has seen it all in his more than 20 years on the bench, including his role as drug court coordinator in Porterville.
“Methamphetamine is the primary problem,” he said of the rate of crime in Porterville, or any other city. He estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the people who come into his drug court are hooked on methamphetamine.
“It drives the majority of criminal activity here,” he added.
Meth is a highly addictive stimulant that did not appear on the streets in great quantities until the late 1970s and 1980s, said John Donnelly, Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Fresno. He worked the Valley in the 1980s, moved to another area and has been back since 2007. He says the problem with meth has not subsided.
He said it first showed up in the motorcycle gangs in the 1970s, thus the name “crank” because of where bikers would hide the drug. Then, in the late 1980s to today the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations got “involved in a big way.”
“That really accelerated meth use,” he said.
Roper and Donnelly said the only real change in the meth business today is it is no longer being cooked in fields or kitchens as was prevalent in the 1990s and what promoted so many county sheriff’s to declare war on those drug manufacturers.
Donnelly said today meth is manufactured in large quantities in Mexico, then sent in bulk into the United States where what he called “conversion labs” take a liquid or powder form of meth made in Mexican labs and turn it into crystal (solid) meth, the form preferred on the streets.
“The conversion process only requires a couple of chemicals,” he said and is not as dirty as the old process. Also, said Roper, laws which have restricted the sale of some chemicals and medications used in the manufacture of the drug, including Sudafed, have made it harder to make meth here.
Roper said the way most users take meth is by smoking it.
“What it does, it produces an incredibly high amount of dopamine in the brain. It sends the brain into ecstasy and the brain is instantly addicted to that sensation,” said the judge who has seen graduates of his court become clean and serve as counselors to those trying to straighten their lives out.
“Smoking is by far the fastest way to drive that feeling,” he said, although users can snort it or inject it as well.
Roper estimated that the average street meth user goes through $25 to $50 a day of the drug. Because the drug is so strong, those people using it cannot hold a job, so they turn to crime, usually petty theft and other crimes of convenience.
“It is the root of a lot of crimes,” said Donnelly. “Property crimes are driven by people feeding their habits,” he added.
A study done in Kern County in 2008 showed just how far reaching a problem is methamphetamine.
That study found that more than 39 percent of all felony prosecutions in Kern County include methamphetamine offenses. That figure is no surprise to local law enforcement.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to say we run across it daily, if not twice daily,” said Officer Dominic Barteau, spokesperson with the Porterville Police Department.
He said the impact meth has on local crime is “massive.”
“You have our drug users who aren’t gratefully employed due to their habit and they have to pay for that habit,” he explained.
An Associated Press story in 2012 reported, “The Central Valley of California is a hub of the nation’s methamphetamine distribution network, making extremely pure forms of the drug easily available locally. And law enforcement officials say widespread meth abuse is believed to be driving much of the crime in the vast farming region.”
Roper and Barteau said drug users are not normally violent criminals, but they look for opportunities to make a quick dollar to pay for more of the drug.
Barteau said they also see their share of meth dealers, often those using meth and selling it to pay for their own habit.
In Tulare County last year, the sheriff’s department seized more than 118 pounds of meth and took down three labs. In all, 79 people were arrested. In 2011, Porterville Police seized 8 ounces of meth, but did not take down any labs, but Barteau recall the days when labs could be found in town, even at a local motel that included a small kitchen.
“We do have repeat offenders,” said Barteau, but added, “I would still consider it pretty widespread.”
He said police continue to combat drug use.
“Obviously, we’re battling it and trying to be proactive,” he added.