|By Bob Weaver|
West Virginia officials say the number of methamphetamine cases in West Virginia is making a tremendous and deadly comeback.
In rural WV counties like Calhoun, it never left.
Meth is one of the most powerful and destructive addictive drugs, and many first time users become hooked quickly.
Officials say long gone are the days of cooking the potent stimulant in trailers or in backpacks beside the road, but in rural counties there are some attempting that practice.
Officials say the production of meth is now being outsourced to sophisticated laboratories in countries like Mexico or China and then carted into the state.
Drug cartels and their dealers have direct pipelines to most of West Virginia's most populated towns.
The commercialization is a more powerful drug that goes hand-in-hand with West Virginia's ongoing battle against opioid addiction.
Law enforcement officials, who are seeing a leveling-off period of opioid addiction cases, must now deal with the new threat in the uptick of meth, according to the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.
The number of meth-related cases is increasing because dealers who formerly dealt opioids, particularly heroin and fentanyl, realized overdoses are bad for business, said Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for West Virginia's Southern District.
"What we saw is a move by suppliers to make sure their market share wasn't dying off," Stuart said.
Numbers show opioid use is slowly declining, but those same dealers have replaced their heroin and fentanyl with meth, he said. The meth is coming from increasingly sophisticated operations.
"Today's meth is not the meth of the 'bake house' era," Stuart said. "This is not the same meth we saw five to eight years ago in small communities."
Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial said the number of meth cases that police officers are coming into contact with is increasing, but heroin is still the city's deadly drug of choice.
"We are seeing meth along with the opioids," Dial said. "It seems to be an add-on drug for some people. Dealers seem to be having both."
"One of the things about drugs is people use them initially because they work. If they didn't work, they would not use them. The perceived benefit about meth appears like something you would want to have, and I say that facetiously," said Mary McCarty-Arias, senior trainer for the Northeast and Caribbean Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network.
Getting someone off a meth addiction is extremely difficult and does not resemble scarier side effects often seen with opioid withdrawal, she said. Meth withdrawal tends to resemble depression and lethargy.
West Virginians who live in rural areas might find it difficult to get access to treatment.
Stuart said there is a larger effort now among law enforcement to see drug addiction as a health crisis.
"Law enforcement has a pretty good balance today in realizing that addicts are not the enemy. Drug thugs and dealers are the enemy," said the Huntington Chief.
Stuart said one of the key solutions in battling drug addiction is attacking supply and demand, although in rural areas, law enforcement generally arrests the users, many of whom are committing other criminal acts.
There appears to be some new efforts to provide long term treatment in West Virginia.
Addiction, while stereotyped with lower socioeconomic classes and criminal behavior, it is an equal opportunity disease that affects all families.
Family members, virtually every week, are acknowledging that addiction killed their loved one, noting it in obituaries.
More that 1,000 of West Virginia's young people died last year from addiction, but there were many more not caught by reporting.