Washtenaw County meth use lags behind other drugs, but LAWNET says it's increasing
Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com
Prominent in rural areas, methamphetamine has not historically been a popular drug in Washtenaw County. However, one law enforcement official said meth is here. And, its use is spreading.
“They’re here, I know they are,” said Detective Lt. Dale Smith, of the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team (LAWNET). “We’ve done five or six (meth lab busts) in the last couple months, but the public doesn’t know what they’re looking at.”
Smith said the MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette investigation into methamphetamine in southwest Michigan has put the drug in the spotlight for LAWNET investigators.
Meth is a highly-addictive stimulant, often coming in powder form or in small rocks, according to Michigan Meth Watch Program. The drug is usually white or slightly yellow, depending on purity, and releases high levels of dopamine.
According to Michigan Meth Watch Program, the drug can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat and extreme anorexia.
Meth does not usually have a big presence in Washtenaw County. Law enforcement officials who previously spoke to AnnArbor.com about the drug said the use of meth is widespread in rural areas and becomes rarer as the population density increases.
Smith said there aren’t any large meth operations operating in the area, with mostly one-pot operations sporadically populating the county. There’s not a lot of money to be made in the local meth trade, with dealers often selling the drug to buy more products to make their own.
Smith said dealers run out of product after about two or three days, and have to make more.
“These things are so dangerous and so easy to make,” he said. “Basically, everything you need to know is on the Internet.”
Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Geoffrey Fox said deputies believe the drug is still lagging behind others in popularity in Washtenaw.
“We come across small cooking ops (operations) from time to time, but it is not as prevalent as the other drugs,” Fox wrote in an email.
In the past 12 months, from June 27, 2012, to Thursday, the sheriff’s office investigated seven methamphetamine cases, Fox said. Two of those cases were possession of methamphetamine and five were meth possession and operating a meth lab, Fox said.
The other drugs Fox was referring to are crack cocaine and heroin, two substances that have traditionally kept meth out of Washtenaw, Smith said.
Heroin has been identified as a growing problem in Washtenaw County, especially after 10 overdoses were reported in two weeks earlier this month. Two of those overdoses were fatal.
Police said heroin has started to outstrip crack cocaine as the cheap drug of choice in parts of Washtenaw County. Smith said that availability might explain why meth use, though spreading, is still limited.
“It’s strange how this area has been rather isolated,” he said. “Predominantly, it’s because crack cocaine and heroin are so available, and that crack is so cheap, that people have never really needed to us (meth).”
Saline police Detective Don Lupi said there's just been one recent meth possession case in the city.
"We’ve only got one confirmed case of possession recently," he said. "Other than that we haven’t seen much of it."
The slightest hint of meth increase its spreading in Washtenaw County is a cause for concern for law enforcement officials like Smith, whose LAWNET force specifically targets drug crime in Livingston and Washtenaw counties.
“This stuff could cripple drug units like us because we’d spend all our time doing that,” he said.