Since January, seven methamphetamine labs have been found in Hartselle. As the problem continues to grow throughout the county, law enforcement officials find their time and resources are increasingly spent.
Tracy B. Cieniewicz
Narcotics Investigator Tony Fetner and Sgt. Justin Barley of Hartselle Police Department estimate half their time on duty is spent working to rid the city of methamphetamine.
The other half of their time is spent working to rid the city of all other illegal drugs combined.
Fetner and Barley are the only two officers certified to work methamphetamine cases at HPD. However, HPD will have two additional officers certified by the end of August to help Fetner and Barley as meth production and meth-related crimes continue to increase in Hartselle.
According to Barley, meth production isn't the only crime rapidly increasing in the city.
What is meth?
Fetner and Barley described methamphetamine, referred to simply as meth on the street, as a stimulant. Its primary ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, found in most common cold pills.
There are two types of meth: "Clean meth," or "Ice," which is mass produced and trafficked by Mexican cartels; and "Dirty meth," which is produced in small, local labs.
Fetner and Barley said the powdery substance can be smoked, snorted, ingested or injected by needle.
Barley said the high obtained from meth is double the intensity of cocaine and can last from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the tolerance level the drug abuser has reached in his or her drug use.
Fetner said a recent study reported most who use meth become highly addicted within a couple of uses. Only four out of every 100 meth addicts recover.
Who uses meth?
Barley and Fetner said typical "meth-heads" (meth addicts) arrested in the Hartselle area have been Caucasian or Hispanic males and females between the ages of 18 and 60.
According to Barley, a 2005 study found 3 percent of eighth grade students in Alabama have admitted to trying meth at least once.
A 2003 study showed 1.3 million people age 12 or older across the U.S. admitted to having tried meth at least once. Also, between 2002 and 2003, U.S. law enforcement agencies have seen a 31 percent increase in meth use crime.
What is a meth lab?
Barley said a meth lab is not the elaborate, scientific setup one might imagine.
Fetner said meth labs are primarily setup to produce enough of the drug for personal use and enough to sell. The profits are, in turn, used to manufacture more meth.
According to HPD findings in local sting operations, "Clean" meth costs about $120 or more per gram, while "Dirty" meth costs $80-$100 per gram.
While some form of ephedrine is the primary ingredient, many different potentially hazardous chemicals are used to produce meth, including acetone, camping fuel, engine starter fluid, ether, gasoline additives, paint thinner and methanol.
Meth cooks aren't the only ones taking precautions around meth. Fetner and Barley must renew their meth certification yearly and wear protective hazardous material suits when investigating a meth scene.
The enormous amount of time and resources spent on each meth lab case is a drain on taxpayer dollars, according to Fetner.
What's being done about meth?
According to Barley and Fetner, the most effective tool in stopping meth production in Hartselle and throughout Morgan County is community education.
While Fetner and Barley alert local pharmacies and retailers to the tell-tale signs of a meth producer, HPD officers and local firemen are also trained to know what to look for.
While more arrests are made annually for possession of marijuana, Barley and Fetner agree it is much less of a problem for the environment, personal health and safety than meth.