19 Investigates: Meth cases flood into Northeast Ohio, purer and more dangerous than before

Law enforcement officials say the supply is coming from Mexican drug cartels.

Meth cases flood into Northeast Ohio, purer and more dangerous than before

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Northeast Ohio continues to fight the opioid epidemic, but methamphetamine is eclipsing heroin in some places.

Meth coming into Northeast Ohio is purer than ever before, making it more potent and possibly more deadly.

It’s called ICE, crystal and chalk.

And it's not being made in houses and cars anymore.

Meth samples tested by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation more than doubled last year.

A recovering addict’s story

“There's a lot of money to be made in meth, a lot. Plus I think a lot of people are afraid to sell heroin because of how many people are dying,” said Jeff Whittington, a recovering addict from Cleveland.

“I've been sober seven months, the 18th of December. Seven months,” he said.

Pain pills after a sports injury led to Jeff’s heroin addiction.

“Started out snorting it, I was getting it from Slavic village area,” he said.

Jeff moved down south to Arkansas at 25 years old, after spending some time in prison.

But he couldn't stay clean.

“I got on the meth, everything was cool,” he said.

“It started off just smoking it, maybe a little bit in the morning. And on the way home from work. And before you know it, there's no sleep involved and you literally go crazy,” Whittington said.

For addicts, the cycle is hard to break.

“For me, I tricked myself to believing it was beneficial in my life. So I'd just keep doing more,” Whittington said.

Jeff hopes this time, he'll stay away from drugs for good.

He’s recovering at The Lantern in Cleveland.

“There's going to be a day I have to leave here. I just have to remember what I learned, remember what it was like,” he said.

Jeff Whittington is a recovering meth and heroin addict.
Jeff Whittington is a recovering meth and heroin addict. (Source: WOIO)

A different kind of meth

The meth Jeff was smoking a few years ago is totally different from what's on the streets today.

You don’t see many one pot, “shake and bake” meth labs using cold medicine as the main ingredient.

Jason Waddell is the director of Medway DEA in Wooster.

“We could take a store receipt and trace it back to the person that purchased the pseudoephedrine. That we're finding those same people in the house where the drug's being manufactured, so it was a whole chain of evidence,” he said.

Jason Waddell is the director of Medway DEA in Wayne County.
Jason Waddell is the director of Medway DEA in Wayne County. (Source: WOIO)

Waddell says they see more meth in Wayne County than opioids.

Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient for making meth.

But ever since the law changed in 2006, cold medicine with pseudoephedrine is behind the counter at the pharmacy.

Meth is now flowing from super labs across the border from Mexico and it's cheap.

“So the cartel's figured out there are some Americans that have a bad addiction, and they just started flooding the market, and they put the prices really low,” Waddell said.

Meth in Wooster is coming from cities like Cleveland and Akron.

Undercover agents with Medway DEA are constantly working the streets, making buys and carrying out stings.

“We keep building the cases and trying to shut down the supply,” Waddell said.

Inside the BCI crime lab

Those drugs busted by law enforcement often end up at the BCI crime lab in Richfield.

It's an alarming trend.

19News found lab techs tested 12,377 samples of meth in Ohio in 2018.

That’s more than double the amount of heroin they tested-- 5,296 samples.

So far this year, the BCI lab has tested nearly 4,192 samples of meth and 1,417 samples of heroin.

A lab technician tests a large sample of methamphetamine.
A lab technician tests a large sample of methamphetamine. (Source: WOIO)

Not all drugs seized by law enforcement in the state of Ohio are tested at the BCI lab.

Some are tested in local labs.

19News spoke with BCI Superintendent Joe Morbitzer.

“When we see the opioid crisis that's been happening and we have the crackdowns on heroin, what we see is something that's been put in its place,” he said.

The hardest part may be trying to stop the supply.

“Really start breaking up these drug cartels and syndicates, because that's what they are. They're very sophisticated when it comes to supply and delivery, they're very well-organized organizations,” Morbitzer said.

There is no equivalent to Narcan for meth overdoses.

“That's where people don't understand, if they try to ingest or shoot up the same amount, they may be getting something that's a lot stronger. And that generally causes an overdose, and sometimes a lethal overdose,” he said.

Drugs vary by county

Meth use varies by county in Ohio.

The Stark County Sheriff's Office says meth has been surging there since January and they see meth cases 2:1 over heroin.

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office says they are getting more meth seizures and arrests and seeing more cases come in from surrounding communities.

Meanwhile in Lorain County, the crime lab director says fentanyl and heroin are still the number one drugs they see.

But even there, they've seen meth cases triple since 2016.

You can help police get meth and other drugs off our streets.

If you see something suspicious in your neighborhood, give them a call.

Police pass that information on to drug task forces.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services runs a free, confidential 24/7 hotline.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline offers treatment referral and information in English and Spanish for people and families facing mental and substance use disorders.

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