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Meth in Sanpete

 

Meth-related activity accounts for more than half of all crime in county

 

James Tilson

Staff writer

7/19/2018

 Officer Breezy Anderson of the Ephraim Police Department approached a car in the Walmart parking lot. Anderson had pulled the car over because it was being driven erratically Inside, Anderson found a 50-year-old Mt. Pleasant woman with a history of meth use and probation supervision. Anderson tried to administer a field sobriety test, but the woman couldn’t complete the test. After taking the woman into custody, Anderson found meth  and opiates in her system. The woman was in the system again, still fighting her demons.

 

Methamphetamine, or “meth,” is perhaps the biggest single source of crime in Sanpete County.

Meth use, meth trafficking and crimes growing out of meth activity, such as theft, DUI, domestic violence and sex crimes, account for a little more than half of all crimes committed in Sanpete County, according to Det. Derick Taysom of the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Department.

“Meth is really big,” Taysom says. “Bigger than heroin, really. Percentage-wise, it is at least a third, a third to a half of the drugs that we seize.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.

Methamphetamine was developed early in the 20th Century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers.

Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a sense of well-being or euphoria.

However, methamphetamine differs from amphetamine in that, at comparable doses, much greater amounts of the methamphetamine get into the brain, making it more potent than amphetamine. Meth also has longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system than amphetamines. These characteristics give meth a high potential for widespread abuse.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a survey in 2015 that found of the roughly 267 million people in the United States over the age of 12, about 10 percent, or 27 million people, used illicit drugs. Of those, a little under 1 million, or 0.3 percent of the whole population, used meth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Sanpete County’s population was 28,778 in 2015. That means the county could expect to have about 86 meth users. But based on anecdotal evidence—and the number of drug busts, arrests and convictions on the public record—there appears to be many more than that.

For example, “Andrea Sparks” (not her real name), a recovering addict, says when she was an active user in the Gunnison Valley, she knew of 20 people who were “heavy users.” With the Gunnison Valley representing a little over 11 percent of county population, that would extrapolate to 175 meth users in the whole county.

Statistics compiled by the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office show that drug and alcohol cases make up a huge majority of all arrests in Sanpete County. From mid 2017 to mid 2018, the percentage of arrests where alcohol or drugs was a factor was 66 to 86 percent, depending on the month.

Furthermore, the number of alcohol and drug arrests has been rising. In FY 2015, there were 51 arrests. In FY 2016, the number jumped to 216. In FY 2017, alcohol and drug arrests dropped to 148, but in FY 2018, they  jumped again to 161 (with statistics for the final quarter of the fiscal year yet to be added in).

Most notably, meth arrests have consistently accounted for the lion’s share of drug arrests. During FY 2016, of 106 arrests for illegal drugs, 53 (or 50 percent) were for meth. In FY 2017, 87 out of 146 drug arrests were for meth. In the first three quarters of FY 2018, there were 45 meth arrests out of 138 total drug arrests.

And law enforcement officials agree that meth gets entangled in other crimes. “I would say, at a rough guess, at least 50 percent of our cases involve meth,” says Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels. “If you counted meth and heroin, I’d say at least 85 percent.”

Deputy Malcolm Powell, a patrol deputy, says meth takes up “at least half” of his case load. “It’s usually involved with other crimes, just because people do a lot of things to get meth.”

“It’s an addiction,” Det. Taysom says. “It costs a lot of money, you end up needing more and more and more of the substance to get that high, so it becomes more and more expensive. Most jobs do drug testing now, and you can’t pass the drug test, so you can’t get a good paying job, so you have to resort to other means to make money to pay for your addiction.”

Sanpete County Public Defender David Angerhofer has the same experience with meth taking up much of his case load. “Well, if you mean drugs in general, it would be 3 of 4 (cases), counting all the different drugs that could be used, marijuana and alcohol. Meth, I’d say at least half.”

Deputy Jeff Greenwell, Sanpete County probation officer, says “at least 80 percent” of his case load is drug related, and meth users are probably most of them. “Either meth and an opiate, or heroin or just meth. I see a lot of the combinations.”

All of the above begs the question: How did meth use become so prevalent in Sanpete County? All the local experts agree that meth has become cheap and plentiful due to the Mexican cartels entering the market.

Daniels, who published a law journal article about methamphetamine during law school, says during the 1980s and 1990s, most meth was made in “home-grown” meth labs in local areas. Then Congress came out with legislation banning the unregulated sale of the precursor chemicals, such as phosphate and Sudafed.

“It was great legislation,” says Daniels, “but what it did was push the market more towards the cartels. They started creating super-labs in the ‘90s, 2000s, and that’s what you’re seeing now.”

“Most methamphetamine comes up from Mexico, pushed by the cartels. In Utah, it will come up to Salt Lake. And then in Sanpete, users will go up to Salt Lake and bring back what they want.”

Tonia Castro, director of the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program in the Sanpete County Jail concurs. “I hear it is coming from Mexico. (Sanpete County users) have to travel out of the area to get it. And they bring it back. Probably from Salt Lake.”

According to Castro, many addicts can make enough money buying meth in Salt Lake City and bringing it back to Sanpete County that their own meth doesn’t cost them anything.

“They can do meth for free, it doesn’t cost them anything to do meth. They can leave the area, get it in Salt Lake, do as much as they want, sell enough to make a profit, then go back and get more. And the majority of people here can use it totally free. It’s the closet users who have to pay, the ones that don’t want anyone to know.”

Diana Headley, a recovering meth user, says, “You give somebody that isn’t educated or doesn’t even have the will or desire to get on state benefits, let alone work for $7 an hour, they’ve got a baby who needs some milk, and ask them, ‘Hey, will you run this for me real fast, and I’ll give you a couple grand?’ Damn straight they’re gonna.”

Sparks says back when she was using, it was easy to get meth. “Oh, it was super easy. We lived in Gunnison, and it was on every corner. If you couldn’t get it from one dealer,…you could go ask somebody else.”

Sparks was asked if many people left their meth habits. Her answer was no. “It was mostly the same group of people, they’d do a little jail time and come right back to it.”

Next week: The culture of methamphetamine use and why people decide to use meth in the first place.