Meth spreading quickly into new areas of state

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - The use of a drug known as "poor man's heroin" is increasingly spreading throughout Ohio, and authorities fear there is little they can do to slow it down.
Makers of methamphetamine -- also known as meth, speed, ice or crystal -- arrived in the state within the last two or three years.
Initially, production mainly was limited to rural areas in the southern part of the state. But this year there has been a spike in meth labs in central and northeast Ohio.
"We're going to see an increase for the next couple of years," said John Cooke, a criminal intelligence analyst who tracks meth production for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
"I don't know what we can do as a state to slow it down," he said.
Other states in the Midwest have had little success stopping meth use, Cooke said.
The number of meth labs found this year in Ohio likely will double from 2002, Cooke said. Already, there have been 192 reported this year compared with 114 last year, he said.
But the number of labs reported by local agencies may fall short of the actual figure because not all counties report their figures the same way and there are no set reporting requirements, Cooke said.
"We're seeing a definite increase," he said. "We don't know how high it is."
Authorities in Ashtabula County in northeast Ohio have busted up 16 meth production labs this year after finding none in recent years. Some have been found in campers, barns and even in a junkyard.
"The county is more rural than some others, and that seems to be their favorite place for manufacturing," said Howard Shetler, chief deputy with the sheriff's office.
Makers of meth prefer rural areas because avoiding detection is easier and one of the primary ingredients is anhydrous ammonia, a farm fertilizer sprayed on corn fields, authorities said.
Other ingredients are common chemicals that can be found in hardware and drug stores, such as starter fluid, paint thinner, batteries and cold medicine.
Some urban areas -- especially near Columbus and Akron -- are seeing an increase in meth production, said Scott Duff, a special agent for the criminal identification bureau who investigates meth use.
Duff also has led seminars to train police officers, home health care workers and retailers on how to spot a meth lab or someone who makes the drug.
Some stores have agreed to limit the amounts of certain cold medicines customers can buy, Duff said. Many makers are also users of the highly addictive drug.
"The craving and addiction to meth is exceptional," said John Postlethwaite, commander of the major crimes unit for Fairfield and Hocking counties. "It's poor man's heroin."
Meth's popularity has grown so much that state authorities held a two-day meeting in July with about 250 police officers and health workers to talk about combating the drug.
"It's growing on a daily basis," Attorney General Jim Petro told the group.
Another reason for the increase in the number of meth labs reported is that some county sheriffs have made stopping the operations a priority and departments now know how to spot them, authorities said.
"We started preparing for this two years ago," said Bill Williams, commander of the Clermont County Narcotics Task Force. "We realized this is going to have to be a priority."
In nearby Adams County, authorities have seen meth production drop off a bit this year because of aggressive enforcement, said sheriff's detective Jeff McCarty.
"I don't think they've all moved on," he said. "The ones who are left are just finding another way to make it where they're not so obvious.
"So we're just adapting and figuring out another way to catch them."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)