A rising problem, methamphetamine use in Morrison County

(Pictured are some of the almost 200 community members who showed up for the Oct. 2 training session on methamphetamine use in Morrison County. The group represented law enforcement, counselors, hospital staff, realtors, and many others who are more likely to run across meth users or labs in the area. Only about 150 people had been expected to show up. Organizers of the session were very pleased with the turnout. Staff photo by Sarah Wocken)

Deb Durkin from the Minnesota Department of Health took up where Ploof left off, giving statistics and facts about meth use state-wide. “What’s happening here in Morrison County?” she asked. “A lot of kids are starting to use the drug because they can steal something in order to get a high. This is a very addictive drug. It can stay in the body for up to six days.”

Since most meth labs are very small, they’re user-operated. “This drug can be deadly the first time it’s used,” Durkin said. She added it takes a whole week of a law enforcement officer’s staff to “bust” one lab. For those meth users who do seek treatment, six percent are successful Durkin related, “This is a white-person’s drug in Minnesota.”

With meth use being promoted on certain websites, the sites praise the side effects of anorexia and insomnia, among other effects, for those interested in getting high off meth. According to Durkin, some of the sites even give advice on how to hurt police officers and make booby traps. Some farmers have been getting their anhydrous ammonia stolen out of their tanks, no matter what precautionary measures they take.

“About three-fourths of the ingredients to make meth are right in people’s homes,” Durkin said. Even those labs that were seized by law enforcement years earlier still contain health hazards. Meth labs can be found anywhere from daycare centers (50 percent of labs in Minnesota have children in them) to tree stands, fishhouses, outhouses, mobile homes, sheds, vehicles and private residences.

“Thirty to 40 percent of Minnesota labs are discovered when they catch on fire or are blown up,” Durkin said. “We need to increase awareness of this problem. We also need meth-specific treatment programs in our communities.”

When it comes to figuring out how to solve the meth problem in the county, Durkin said people need to sit down together and come up with a plan. Just one individual or group can’t eradicate the problem. “The county’s really the ideal unit for getting meth labs cleaned up,” she said.

“What can community members do about meth problems?” Durkin asked. She gave a list of possible answers to the problem: Be aware that the problem exists; Be willing to do something about it; Watch for meth waste; Rent property wisely; Talk to those who make and keep the law; Insist on local cleanup, and protection of children; Talk to local retailers about reporting meth products purchased; and, Report suspected labs and meth activity.

Ploof said, “This is a real new problem in the county. Just in the last couple of years it has come up. No one seems to know what to do.”

The county is currently in the process of developing an ordinance regarding meth use and issues that have arisen. As of now, when a meth lab is found, Ploof said the cops go in, take out the hazardous materials and give the chemicals to the hazardous waste people. The follow- up ends there. Those caught in meth lab crimes are usually sentenced to 86 months in prison. However, most of them never have to sit the whole 86 months there, Ploof said.

Durkin said, “We are not finished (with the problem). The increase in meth use has not stopped going up yet.” For those seeking more information, Minnesota Department of Health’s website is www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/meth/index.html

Of the many professions at the training session, including law enforcement members, public works, fire fighters, counselors, hospital staff and realtors, a good number seemed shocked at what they learned. Jane Fussy, a dispatcher and correctional officer at the Morrison County Jail, said, “The statistics are most alarming to me. I didn’t realize the kids are affected so much.”

At the evening community forum, about 165 community members and students attended. Virginia Schwinghammer, an area resident who attended the forum, said, “I just want to learn what’s going on in our community. There’s so much behind the scenes that we don’t know.” She added she also wants to pass on the information to her grandchildren, who didn’t attend.

Ploof, also at the forum, said, “I was happy with the crowd (at the training session). People seemed to be very attentive.”

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