Law enforcement and treatment center officials are seeing a trend of drug users turning to methamphetamine out of fear of heroin’s deadly consequences.
Numbers across the state and locally reflect that trend from samples sent to Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation to indictments through the U.S. 23 Task Force.
In 2016, the U.S. 23 Task Force reported it seized 44 grams of methamphetamine. Last year, it reported it seized 1,130 grams of meth.
The task force reported 101 total indictments in 2016 and 211 the following year.
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the number of meth cases BCI has processed in recent years is trending upward. In 2015, the agency processed 2,050 methamphetamine cases. The following year, the number jumped nearly 1,000. Last year, the agency processed over 5,300 methamphetamine cases and as of Feb. 1 this year, they’ve processed 912 cases.
In comparison, the number of heroin cases the BCI has processed has gone down in recent years from 6,832 in 2015 to 4,193 in 2017.
According to Jill Del Greco, public information officer for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, crystal meth makes up the majority of the methamphetamine samples submitted to BCI.
“As indicated above, 912 cases tested positive for methamphetamine in just the first month of 2018,” Del Greco said in an email to The Gazette. “If this trend continues per month, the number of cases testing positive for methamphetamine this year will exceed 2017.”
In the city
While the Chillicothe Police Department narcotics unit reports it is seeing an influx of meth, they’re still seeing the same two kinds of meth, created through different manufacturing processes.
One-pot meth, according to Det. Derek Wallace, is made for personal use, and users can cook a gram or two in about an hour for themselves. Crystal meth, or “ice,” on the other hand, is mass produced and imported, he added.
“They’re able to produce larger amounts, larger batches faster and cleaner than what the one-pot is. And what I mean by cleaner is it just looks different,” Wallace said. “It’s all still methamphetamine. It’s just since they’re cooking large batches, they’re able to make it look like it’s higher grade meth by basically cleaning it to make it look like glass.”
As far as meth labs law enforcement has to take apart, Wallace said there hasn’t been much change in recent years. They estimated the county sees more one-pot meth than they do because of the ability to drive around with a pop bottle in the car, making meth.
“They’re going to ride around in rural areas and as soon as they’re done cooking, they just pitch the bottle out the window,” Wallace said. “I think as far as finding actual labs, like one-pots, the county definitely does more than we do, but I don’t think that necessarily means that we don’t have it here in town. I think it’s just a matter of it’s easier to cook while you’re driving and just pitch it out the window.”
Det. Ben Rhoads estimated most of the crystal meth they see probably comes from Mexico because it’s easier to get across the border.
“It’s cheaper,” Wallace said, going on to explain how a business that can mass produce an item is able to sell it for cheaper. “There’s definitely a cost difference in what’s coming across the border.”
Another thing potentially affecting the increase in meth is the cost discrepancy between meth and heroin. According to Wallace, an ounce of meth costs anywhere from $400 to $700, while an ounce of clean heroin runs between $2,200 and $2,400.
In talking to drug users in their daily work, the detectives agreed they think users are switching to methamphetamine because they think it’s safer.
“One thing a few people have told us is they’ve switched to meth because they have too many friends dying from the heroin overdoses, so they’re afraid to use it,” Det. Sam Taczak, of Chillicothe Police Department’s narcotics unit, said.
According to narcotics unit detectives, a big reason for the increase in meth could be attributed to those trying to get clean from heroin and users who are undergoing Vivitrol treatment.
“I would say about 90 percent of those on Vivitrol are probably using meth or crack,” Taczak said.
One drug for another?
Tracy Hathaway, family drug court liaison and case manager, said they’ve definitely seen a large increase in meth during drug screens as compared to a year ago.
“It is alarming because a lot of the (medication-assisted treatment) … doesn’t help with the amphetamines, so someone can be successful by taking that on a regular basis and not be using opioids or heroin, but still getting high from the methamphetamine,” she said.
Vivitrol’s website explains it’s a medication used in addiction treatment and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain preventing the release of dopamine, and thus the high that results from taking opioids. The medication, however, is not effective with methamphetamine.
In her line of work, Hathaway has seen where users aren’t ready to give up the lifestyle, so while they may be getting some type of medicated assisted therapy to help them quit using opioids and heroin, they’re not ready to make the commitment to a life change, so they see out a different kind of high.
Wallace expressed similar thoughts to why the unit has seen an increase in meth.
“We had a lot of people tell us that they’re using meth now because they’re either clean from heroin and don’t want to go back to heroin, but they still have an addiction issue and they switch to meth or vice versa,” he said. “It’s because they’re on some type of treatment, whether it be Vivitrol or whatever, they can still use meth and get high from it versus using heroin and dying ’cause they have Vivitrol in them.”
The user perspective
Thirty-four-year-old Desiree Rackley and James Dawkins, 32, have both experienced the effects of multiple drugs, including meth, and are currently in recovery and in family drug court.
Prior to prison, Dawkins said he was using Percocet and cocaine, taking 20 to 25 pills a day. But after he was released from prison, a friend was selling crystal meth from out of state and weighing it out on the scale so he tried it.
“My friend was weighing it out on the scale and I just tasted some. And I’m just talking about just a couple little crumbs,” Dawkins remembered. “I went home and I couldn’t go to sleep. I was up all night just from tasting – like you would pull a slice of bread out of the bag and drop some crumbs on the counter – I tasted that much.”
He recalled getting a chunk of “ice” from a friend that lasted him four months.
Rackley, who proudly declared she’s been off heroin for three years, said she used to do heroin and Percocet, but got tired of being sick all the time and got sent to prison, so she got off heroin and stayed off it. But once she was out of prison, everyone around her was doing meth.
Asked if it was harder to get off heroin or meth, Rackley explained with heroin, there are withdrawals, but with meth, users just want to sleep. She recalled having psychological effects from meth if she went too long without sleep.
“If I was up for too long, I would be crying or I’d be arguing with somebody. It just got to the point, I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Rackley said, adding that she’d isolate herself in her bedroom, but family members or friends would just bring it to her.
Hathaway explained that using ice, recovering addicts don’t feel the sickness or withdrawal and from what she’s heard, people are using meth and ice to get off heroin.
“Like she was saying earlier, about people doing meth to get off heroin, I think going to jail was the best thing for me because I tried to do meth to get off the heroin but it would make me hurt worse, so I’d have to do more heroin it seemed like,” Rackley said.
For both Rackley and Dawkins, there came a point in their lives where they had to make the choice to get clean. Rackley was at risk of losing her children to foster care, while Dawkins said his family didn’t trust him alone with his daughter, even taking her to Paw Patrol Live.
“I can’t even be trusted with my own kid and who can I be mad at but myself?” Dawkins said.
Initially, both decided to make a change for their kids. But eventually, they needed to make the choice to better themselves.
“There is one thing you have to change in your recovery and that’s everything. And it took me a while to get that myself, for the first four months, five months,” Rackley said. “I feel like I was more like faking it to make it. I’m the one that asked for treatment. It was just like ‘eh, you’re about to lose everything. Do you want to sit here and be a junkie your whole life?'”
As of Feb. 16, Dawkins had been clean for 45 days. For Rackley, it had been a year and six days.
Growing up and living in Chillicothe, a place that’s all he knows and where his family lives, Dawkins indicated he finds it difficult to keep on the straight and narrow path of recovery.
“It’s hard to change everything because that’s what it takes — changing all your friends, everything you do. But it’s hard to do that in such a small town like this to get clean because you can go to treatment and be in there for an entire year, but when you get out … it’s still there,” he said. “You can only last for so long without sober support, without the want to do, without encouragement because typically in drug use, don’t nobody want to see you doing better than them.”
Rackley, Dawkins, and Hathaway herself, who is in recovery, emphasized the importance of family drug court and their Recovery Council family has had on their journey.
“There’s not going to be a quick fix for this problem,” Hathaway said. “There’s never going to be a quick fix because it’s up to each individual. You have to want a life change and then you gotta chase it like you did your high.”