Illinois’ meth problem forgotten but not gone

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

A deadly standoff last month in Christian County between a man and police at a reported meth house is a reminder that the powerful drug remains prevalent in Illinois and that it may be time to reopen the debate about how to best fight it.

A chaotic scene played out early July 29 at the house about 7 miles west of Pana. Josh A. Edwards, 25, allegedly shot and wounded a police officer after authorities went there for a reported armed and dangerous man. Officers returned fire, prompting Edwards to flee to the roof, where he remained for several hours as police tried to convince him to surrender.

Edwards allegedly shot at officers again, at which point police returned fire and killed him.

Three people in the house were arrested for meth-related offenses. Police said they were aware that people were cooking meth at the house and had been working on an investigation.

Statewide, police have been locked in a battle with meth producers and users for at least 15 years. A state law in 2006 that cracked down on the sale of pseudoephedrine pills, a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth at the time, helped curb production until cooks came up with alternate recipes. Since then, there’s been a noticeable resurgence, authorities say.

The numbers bear that out. In 2004, Illinois authorities reported 1,576 clandestine meth lab seizures. That number fell steadily for a while, dropping to 369 in 2008, but in 2009 it began to creep up again. In 2012, the most recent data available, Illinois reported 801 lab seizures, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Tougher laws and sentencing haven’t been enough to put an end to meth in Illinois. Meanwhile, police grapple with budget shortfalls, cuts to staffing and less grant money to support drug-enforcement efforts, all of which make it more difficult to root out meth.

Authorities in Adams County, consistently one of the top Illinois counties for meth lab seizures, sounded an alarm earlier this year, saying they were facing a “tsunami.”

“We thought we were over the hump in terms of the effectiveness of our eradication efforts and prevalence of its usage,” Adams County State’s Attorney Jon Barnard told the Herald-Whig newspaper in Quincy. “Unfortunately, and much to our chagrin, meth has experienced a significant and ominous resurgence in the last four or five years.”

Last fall Carlinville Police Chief David Haley said meth was “the No. 1 target” for his department after busting three meth labs and arresting six people in a matter of weeks. Beardstown police have arrested more than a dozen people for meth-related crimes this summer.

Last month, a Jacksonville man was arrested after police found a “one-pot” meth lab in his home. And a Schuyler County man and his wife were arrested after a teenager who lived in his house ran away and refused to return, triggering a police investigation and the discovery of a meth lab there.

Last week in Herrin in southern Illinois, a 10-year-old boy was treated for meth exposure and released to child-welfare authorities after a traffic stop resulted the discovery of a mobile meth lab and the arrest of two adults.

Pope County in far southern Illinois is seeing a noticeable spike in meth and secondary crimes, such as burglary and theft.

“We’ve spent thousands of dollars in staff, overtime and jail bills while fighting that battle,” Sheriff Jerry Suites told WSIL-TV, noting that he has only two detectives.

Much of Illinois lawmakers’ chatter about meth died down when the number of lab seizures decreased a few years ago.

Many of the state’s online resources about meth now feature outdated statistics and information. Now lawmakers have turned their attention to combatting heroin. Meanwhile, prescription drug abuse became the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.

Meth’s continued presence in Illinois can’t be forgotten or disregarded. Elected officials in charge of the purse strings must continue to ensure local authorities have the money and resources they need to deal with meth abuse and the problems that come with it, including child neglect, environmental damage and danger to the public.

It also may be time to rethink our approach to fighting meth and re-evaluate the supply and demand in Illinois.

Pseudoephedrine regulation and online lab registries haven’t taken us far enough.

—GateHouse News Service