Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 19, 2013

Antrim officials fight meth wave

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — MANCELONA — Police and prosecutors vow to send a message amid a “disturbing” spike in arrests for methamphetamine production in Antrim County.

The prosecutor’s office issued 10 methamphetamine-related criminal charges since December, and assistant prosecuting attorney James Rossiter said authorities expect there will be more to come.

The Antrim County Sheriff’s Department made its first arrest tied to the drug in late 2010, when police raided the home of a couple who were suspected of maintaining a lab, or facility used to produce the stimulant.

Meth activity had since dropped off police’s radar, said Antrim County Sheriff Daniel Bean.

“We had drug issues, but then this picked up last year,” Bean said. “It came on quickly.”

Incidents started up again in June when authorities investigated a man for manufacturing meth in the trunk of his girlfriend’s car in Mancelona Township. A couple was accused of producing the drug in Jordan Township in October, and two others were arrested in Mancelona in December. Four people were nabbed in February for maintaining a suspected lab in Mancelona.

A traffic stop this month in Custer Township wrapped up a 10-month investigation into a suspect. Meth, paraphernalia and marijuana was found in his vehicle, Bean said.

The bulk of incidents that captured authorities’ attention occurred in Mancelona, Rossiter said.

Detective Lt. Daniel King of the Traverse Narcotics Team said a high number of labs also have popped up in Osceola and Wexford counties, and there’s an increase in production in the Petoskey area, where a suspected meth lab exploded this month.

“I would definitely say that northern Michigan has seen an increase in methamphetamine production and use,” King said.

Rossiter said specific forms of drug abuse appear in waves, and the methamphetamine activity follows a trend of crimes involving prescription pills.

“You might get a handle on heroin a bit and then cocaine is a problem,” he said. “You think you get that problem taken care of and something else seems to take its place.”

Each of the Antrim County drug probes have involved one-pot meth labs, Bean said. The production method is inexpensive, easily concealable and produces a relatively small amount of the drug.

“It doesn’t have to be a big elaborate lab,” King said. “It can be used with a couple 20-ounce soda pop bottles with the right chemical components, and you can be making methamphetamine.”

Bean believes the issue is more widespread than Mancelona or Antrim County; it’s just a matter of finding the activity, he said.

Chris Hindbaugh, executive director of Addiction Treatment Services in Traverse City, said meth production is an increasingly common problem in rural counties where there’s room to produce the drug and avoid detection. The drug’s production and use typically is private, he said.

“If they’re able to sort of keep to themselves and nothing goes wrong, then it just goes on indefinitely. It’s a very isolating,” Hindbaugh said. “It’s not typically a social use.”

Most of the county’s arrests have come from tips. King said anyone who suspects meth production can anonymously alert law enforcement and drug teams.

Bean distributed a couple informational posters to Mancelona convenience stores to make retailers aware of products commonly purchased for meth production. He plans to spread more throughout the county.

The department recently completed training on how to recognize and handle the drug.

“It’s here. It’s a change in the drug scene and it’s something that we have to address not only in training but in the general public and awareness,” Bean said.

Authorities will send a strong message that there will be consequences for meth production, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence in Michigan, Rossiter said.

“The passage of time won’t lessen the consequences if it’s found out,” he said.