Salem Police Chief Al Roork said he knows fear. "Its the feeling you get when you walk in a house with a methamphetamine lab and all doors inside the house are closed. You look around and you only have a few officers to secure the house and there's no telling what's behind those doors; it could be a lab, it could be an addict with a gun," he said.
The scene described by Roork is becoming commonplace for law enforcement officials. On March 10 Roork and law enforcement officials from around the area executed a raid on a suspected methamphetamine lab in Salem. Roork entered the house and all of the doors inside were closed. An officer was injured when a diversionary device known as a "flash bang" went off in his hand.
Former 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Chief and current Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver said, "A plague is sweeping this part of Arkansas and southern Missouri, and the plague is methamphetamine."
National publications Time, Newsweek and U.S. Weekly recently ran stories detailing the rise of methamphetamine use in rural Arkansas. All three publications listed Arkansas as a hotbed for methamphetamine use.
Weaver said there has been an explosion in methamphetamine production and use in Sharp, Fulton and Izard counties. He said, "When I started with the 16th Drug Task Force we didn't bust a single methamphetamine lab from 1988 to 1993. In my last year (2002) we busted approximately 100 labs; that's an epidemic in my book."
Weaver said the spread of methamphetamine use is easy to understand. He said methamphetamines are highly addictive and cheap to produce.
He said there are two types of methamphetamine labs in the tri-county area: Nazi and red phosphorous.
Producing one ounce of methamphetamine in a Nazi method lab requires 750 pills containing pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed and other cold medicines), five lithium batteries, lantern fuel, a bottle of drain cleaner, un-iodized salt, coffee filters and anhydrous ammonia.
Producing the methamphetamine takes about five hours.
The methamphetamine producer or "cook" distills the pseudoephedrine from the cold pills. The lithium strips are dropped into the anhydrous ammonia. The metal in the strips interacts with the ammonia, producing heat. If water is present the mixture will explode.
At the end of the process a powder form of the drug is extracted.
Cooks using the red phosphorous method replace the anhydrous ammonia with red phosphorous. Red phosphorous is found in household cleaning products like Red Devil lye.
Current 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Chief Scott Russell said Nazi style labs are hard to bust because they can be located in a house, in the woods or in a moving vehicle. He said methamphetamine labs have a signature smell which leads to lab busts.
Russell said 85 percent of the labs in Fulton County employ the Nazi method. Weaver said the red phosphorous method is more commonly used in the western United States but there are red phosphorous labs in northern Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties.
Methamphetamines can be smoked, injected, snorted, ingested, or squirted into the anus. He said methamphetamines cause the brain to overproduce the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. He said a feeling of euphoria takes over the user's body and can last for hours, Weaver said.
When the euphoria subsides feelings of aggression, anxiety and heightened sexual response take over. He said methamphetamine addicts commonly carry venereal diseases.
Weaver said long-term methamphetamine addicts have a hard time experiencing pleasure in other activities. He said the overproduction of dopamine destroys the pleasure center in the brain.
Russell said methamphetamines destroy a user's body and life. He said chemicals found in the drug eat up the body's supply of calcium and iron. Users often have rotted teeth and brittle bones, and users lose weight from a loss in appetite.
Users often suffer from heart attack, kidney failure and premature death.
Weaver said the Drug Task Force spent at least 70 percent of its time and resources combating methamphetamine labs in 2002.
He said the drug consumes every part of the addict's life, and addicts lose their jobs, stop taking care of their families and even turn to crime to support their habits. He said addicts often lose their children to the welfare system.
Weaver said education and tough law enforcement are the keys to combating the spread of methamphetamine use. "We live in one of the most wonderful parts of the country. Yes, we have a problem but we recognize the problem and everyone is trying to make the situation better," he said.