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Local law enforcement talk to students about meth

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood speaks with fifth grade students in Thayer about the dangers of methamphetamine. Photo by Linda Greer [Order this photo]
Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood and Chief Deputy Eric King teamed with several Thayer-Mammoth Spring Rotarians recently as they spoke to area fifth-graders about the dangers of methamphetamine.

The teams, including Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Rees and Rotary members Catherine McPherson, Bob Eckman, Trena Spears and Joe Garrison, spoke to children in Alton, Thayer, Couch, Koshkonong and Mammoth Spring over several days this month.

Underwood said children in fifth grade, ages 10 and 11, are impressionable, and should be taught young about the consequences of trying meth. Plus, they may encounter a meth lab, which could explode.

Meth labs are becoming smaller and more portable, he said, citing incidents of meth labs discovered hidden on people's bodies.

"I'm just wondering what kind of person would make bad drugs," a student in Thayer teacher Alicia White's class asked.

Underwood said many drug manufacturers started out as good people who experimented with drugs. Before long, they were hooked, lost their jobs and became desperate for ways to make money.

Meth is much more affordable, at $5 to $20 per hit, than cocaine, for example, which led to its popularity, Eckman told the students. Meth, however, is extremely damaging to the body, both during and after its use, he said.

Using the class of 20 as an example, Garrison said that if all of them were to try meth one time, only two would walk away without becoming addicted. Ninety percent of those who try meth once, continue to use it, he said.

"How do you know where to look?" another student asked Underwood, referring to meth lab investigations.

"They could be anywhere," Underwood said, adding that the purpose of the class was to make students aware of situations they could encounter.

Spears reminded the students that the first thing they should do if they suspect they have found meth ingredients or a possible lab is to "get out of there." Once they are someplace safe and have washed themselves and changed clothes, they should call law enforcement, she said.

Underwood said many of the inmates he has encountered through his 30 years of working in prisons would not have been there if they had not been involved with drugs.

"Substance abuse affects the majority of people in jail, and we have to deal with them climbing the walls when they come down from drugs," Underwood said.

Substance abuse also is costly for penitentiaries, he said, as inmates who abused drugs, particularly meth, have serious health problems.

Many other crimes, such as child abuse, also are related to substance abuse, Underwood said in a followup interview May 8, adding that the county could do more to bust meth labs if it had more resources.

"We could accomplish a lot more if we had one or two people to do investigations," Underwood said. "Right now, I don't even have enough officers to cover shifts."

Oregon County is part of the eight-county South Central Missouri Drug Task Force. From January to March 2011, task force officers uncovered 19 meth labs in the region.

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