Special Agent James Humphrey of the 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force spoke to an assembled group of first responders at the Salem First Baptist Church on Friday, June 25 to address the growing threat of drugs in Fulton County and the surrounding areas.
According to Humphrey, marijuana is beginning to make a comeback into the area, most notably with indoor growing operations, some using hydroponics. He pointed out that many parents don't realize that it's the bud of the plant that is potent and not the leaves.
Marijuana is smoked three ways: rolled up like a cigarette, called a joint; added to cigars and called a blunt; or used in pipes, much like traditional loose-leaf tobaccos.
"It is usually sold in plastic baggies by the ounce or in brick form by bulk," said Humphrey. "A half pound is about $400 and a quarter pound is about $225. An ounce usually runs you $90, but if you buy it in Fulton County it's going to cost you $150, because it's harder to get up here."
A hydroponic operation in Oxford that was in court about six months ago, landed the grower in jail for 12 years. He had manufactured all of his own growing equipment and was able to continue the propagation of his plants through grafting them on to new plants. Apparently, the man's pride in his operation is what got him caught. "One thing about good growers is they like to talk about it, just like tomato growers. They're going to tell you every little detail," Humphrey said.
Special Agent Humphrey also talked about an operation in a Tennessee cave that was recently raided which netted over 25,000 marijuana plants. The grower had become a multimillionaire from selling marijuana.
In Fulton County, one of the most popular drugs of choice is Methamphetamine, or Meth as it's generally referred to. There are several forms of meth, including its purest form, known as "ice" and the "peanut butter" form created by mom and pop dope cookers. It's called peanut butter because it's off-colored, due to the home cooker's inability to properly purify the meth.
Meth can be smoked, taken orally, snorted or injected. Some cookers will press the powdered form into pills using pill presses bought over the Internet which press cartoonish images into the pills, making them attractive to children. A new wave of flavored meth has also hit the streets; just another way to make the drug more attractive to youngsters.
"These manufacturers are very ingenious -- if they put this ingenuity towards any other endeavor, they would do well for themselves, but instead they use it to create new ways to spread drug use," said Humphrey.
Most meth cooks teach at least 10 other people how to cook up meth, who in turn teach up to 10 people, and so on. Three main ways of cooking meth are used: the Nazi method, the Red Phosphorous or Red P method, and the new one pot method called Shake and Bake. The Shake and Bake method is actually just a different way of preparing the Nazi method. It uses the same base recipe, but cooks the meth in a different fashion. All three are dangerous and have the potential for explosive accidents.
"All meth incorporates anhydrous ammonia, ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, and lithium or sodium metals. Now, when you mix lithium or sodium metals with water you can get an explosion, which explains how we get so many of these lab explosions," said Humphrey.
With the Nazi method, you have three phases. The first phase is the extraction phase, where the cook will heat up their base liquids. Next comes the reaction phase when the chemicals and metals are added and when the mixture can potentially explode. The final phase is the salting out procedure where the meth crystals are extracted from the chemical mixture.
With the Red Phosphorous method, exotic looking glassware is used, and large amounts of the drug can be made. Whereas, the Nazi method only produces around 2-3 pounds, the Red P method can produce several times that. It also produces a lot of waste chemicals, typically 5-6 pounds of hazardous waste chemicals for each pound of meth produced.
"Using the red phosphorous in your recipe, if you overcook it too much, it creates phosphene gas which can kill you. Sometimes, they overcook it and can create white phosphorous, which can burn through anything," said Humphrey.
The Shake and Bake method generally utilizes one and two liter plastic soda bottles and plastic tubing. The whole process takes place within the soda bottle. The meth is flaked out through the plastic tubing and then the tube is tied off and the bottle discarded. However, those discarded bottles are now ticking time bombs.
"If someone were to untie it or open it, it could explode and burn them severely. We call them HCL generators, because the chemical reaction never stops. The pressure just builds and builds. The acid erodes the plastic, and makes them even more dangerous. Just picking it up could cause it to explode and spray acid," said Humphrey.
Recently, task force agents have noticed an increase in the use of instant ice packs by meth producers. The ice packs basically contain ammonia nitrate and water which, when combined, create a cooling effect. The meth cookers are buying these packs to extract the ammonia for their recipes. "Ammonia nitrate and fuel is what blew up Oklahoma City -- they don't realize the danger they're in, and the danger they're putting everybody else in," Humphrey said.
Making Meth is a Class Y Felony, punishable by 20-40 years to life in prison. Possession of meth in a small amount is a Class C Felony, which is punishable by 6-10 years. Because of this penalty disparity, more and more people are buying meth from larger cities, such as Batesville and Jonesboro. According to Humphrey, they're being supplied by Mexican manufacturers, who don't face any kind of regulation in Mexico and can thus obtain all the ingredients for cooking meth without too much trouble. Recently, the task force has made several large meth busts in the Batesville area, including one near the Batesville Walmart.
Cocaine is also starting to show up on the drug task force's radar, though mostly in and around the larger cities. Costing the same as meth and providing the some high, albeit for a much shorter period (one hour versus several days), it's not nearly as popular as meth. Cocaine is called crack, coke, speed, blow, flake, snow, heavy snow and blow and can be taken orally, snorted, smoked or injected. Heroin has not been seen much at all in our area. It comes in two popular forms, powdered and black tar, and can be injected, taken orally or smoked.
LSD is a liquid drug, usually dropped onto paper or pills and sold as individual hits. The task force has seen the drug dispensed in Visine containers, in small containers worn around the neck much like children's bubble containers, and on the Spring River they encountered users who had dipped a pacifier in the liquid drug and were ingesting it that way.
Inhalants, like marijuana, are considered a step-up drug. Children start with inhalants, get hooked and move on to more powerful drugs. Most inhalers go for metallic paints as they seem to contain the highest concentration of the high-inducing chemicals. The use of inhalants impairs vision, judgment and deteriorates muscle reflex and control.
The number one cause of overdoses in our area, and the number one problem among our teens is the abuse of Prescription drugs. And in many cases, their own families are to blame for their access to these pills. "They're getting these drugs from your medicine cabinets -- from their parents, their grandparents, aunts and uncles -- at friends houses -- and it just takes one time. Just one dose can kill if it's the right dose," said Humphrey.
The most popular of the abuse prescription drugs are Oxycontin, Morphine, Demerol, Xanax, Valium, Trazadone and Ritalin. Special Agent Humphrey talked of Pill Parties, where kids bring their pills from home and gather them all together and just indiscriminately start popping pills. "These kids are going to parties and they bring sacks of pills and say, 'What color do you like? Which one do you want?,'" said Humphrey. "I went to my mom's medicine cabinet, and found every pill here. My mom isn't a dope head, she's had knees replaced, and she's had surgeries. And she's just like any other older person. She's paid good money for those pills and she doesn't throw away anything. Folks, your doctor will prescribe you more, insurance will pay for more. Get rid of them, because this is where kids are getting them."
He recommended using the website www.identidrug.com to identify any loose pills you may find around your home or in your medicine cabinet. Valiums are stamped with a small "v" and ecstasy pills tend to be stamped with designs to appeal to younger users.
The most important thing the community can do, according to Humphrey, is to talk to our children. "Education is the only way we're going to stop this," said Humphrey. "You need to start talking to your kids now, in fourth and fifth grade. Don't wait til high school, because it's too late. You're not going to catch them unless you talk to them now. It's all about communication."