While opioid addiction has grabbed headlines in recent years, for some law enforcement and treatment officials in Central Missouri, methamphetamine use remains a major problem.
And in some counties, it is the biggest problem.
“I could count on one hand the heroin arrests the last 10 years,” said Richard Miller, chief deputy for Saline County. “Methamphetamine is the worst drug issue. Meth drives most of the crime in Saline County.”
In 2016, there were 207 methamphetamine lab seizures in Missouri, according to figures from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. That is down from a peak of 2,114 lab seizures in 2011, when Missouri had the most labs seized nationally. In Central Missouri, six meth labs were seized in Boone County in 2016, two in Randolph County and one in Cooper County.
As the number of methamphetamine lab seizures fell, deaths from opioid use grew. This year, opioid overdose deaths will exceed traffic fatalities statewide for the first time. Last year, a record 908 opioid deaths were recorded in Missouri and the state Department of Health and Senior Services has confirmed 755 deaths this year through Oct. 31.
On Wednesday, law enforcement, public health officials and treatment providers will gather for four hours at the Courtyard hotel for the latest in a series of nine regional opioid summits hosted by the state health department and local health agencies. Boonville police Chief Bobby Welliver will attend because he sees it as a growing issue for his community.
He’s going, he said, “to stay ahead of the game a little bit.”
From 2012 through 2016, Cooper County had one opioid overdose death and none had been reported for this year through Oct. 31.
“We all know it is going to grow,” Welliver said. “We haven’t seen a lot of heroin use or opioid use, but all law enforcement has to be prepared for this, we have to be on the edge of trying to keep ahead of it, to educate people.”
The state health department recognizes that meth is still more prevalent in some parts of the state than opioids, Director Randall Williams said in a recent interview. However, meth is losing its grip and the opioid epidemic is exacting a far bigger death toll, he said.
“The meth epidemic has made an exit,” Williams said. “The regulation of ephedrine really made a huge dent in its local manufacture and the Mexicans have taken over that distribution.”
Law enforcement officers see a cycle in the drug trade, Cooper County Sheriff Jerry Wolfe said. As the effort to suppress one drug or class of drugs has some success, a different kind of high takes its place.
“Following out of the ’70s, for a fairly long period of time, heroin and LSD and that genre of illegal drugs was pretty prolific,” Wolfe said. “Then those things just kind of tapered off where it was unusual to run across them. In place of them initially was cocaine. It was here and going like gangbusters before law enforcement really even started to get any kind of a handle on it at all.”
There is still a lot of cocaine trafficking going on, Wolfe said, but it was supplanted for some users by methamphetamine, which was cheaper.
Interstate corridors are conduits for the drug trade between cities and Interstate 70 is no exception. Wolfe said he and his deputies work closely with drug task force investigators to watch for unusual activity that could indicate someone has set up a place for transferring drugs where they think there is less enforcement.
“They are always watching for anything, especially a little out of the ordinary,” Wolfe said. “Tar heroin, oxycodone, OxyContin, that is something that real quickly draws our attention.”
The opioid summits emphasize the need for local solutions in treatment and law enforcement as well as recognizing that the problem, while not acute in every location, is growing, Williams said.
“It is recognizing that each community is different,” he said. “Meth is more prevalent in some, opioids in other.”
Helping users, whether they struggle with alcoholism, methamphetamine, cocaine or opioids, is more effective than treating them like criminals, said Barbara Schell, executive director of the Missouri Recovery Network in Jefferson City.
“Our whole focus has to be on recovery, no matter what drug it is,” Schell said. “We need people in recovery to step out of the shadows and tell what worked for them.”
By Rudi Keller | Columbia Tribune