EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A little more than a year ago, detectives with the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Drug Task Force were overwhelmed with methamphetamine-related complaints — responding to drug labs and tracking down the small time dealer-users and their networks of people feeding them pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for making meth.
"It was tying a lot of the guys' time up to where they couldn't work on long-term cases," said Detective Brock Hemsley of the Evansville Police Department.
This year is poised to be no different. The number of meth labs uncovered is on track to exceed last year and the year before that, Hemsley said. Related arrests also are on the rise. As of Oct. 31, local law enforcement had already responded to 92 meth labs this year, compared with 112 for all of 2011 and 88 for 2010, according to Evansville Police Department records. Those records also showed 85 people had been charged with making meth, 100 with dealing it and 129 with possessing the drug in the city as of Oct. 31 this year.
Indiana State Police were involved in investigating 86 meth lab incidents in Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties through September this year, of which 53 were in Vanderburgh.
The story the numbers tell, however, speaks both to the scope of the problem and the effort to solve it.
"It's a good statistic and a bad statistic all at once," Hemsley told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/TLaWKR ).
Hemsley is one of four officers assigned to the EPD's Meth Suppression Unit, created specifically to focus on the drug. The unit's creation has eased some of that pressure on other narcotics officers, but it hasn't been without other costs.
"When you have four guys who are actually out looking for meth labs full-time and investigating complaints, you are going to have more of them found," he said.
However, that also means taking manpower away from other units, said Assistant Police Chief Chris Pugh.
"We have put people whose sole responsibility is meth, but we have had to pull people and redo our manpower to do it," he said. "It is a huge problem for police departments because we have had to dedicate so much manpower to it."
Pugh was a narcotics detective in the late 1990s when methamphetamine use, which had long been present in Evansville, turned into an epidemic driven by the growth of do-it-yourself meth-making techniques that undercut the necessity for dealers who obtained it from outside sources, often the Southwest or Mexico.
"Meth was always thought of as a biker-type drug. Evansville has always had a meth problem, but it really became a bigger problem with the labs," Pugh said. "It was like an explosion. It was like overnight a switch was flipped and these meth labs started showing up. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist, you didn't have to be a chemist to make it.
Now that they are using the one-pot method, it's even easier. There is a huge appetite for meth. It is a huge problem here."
In fact, the "one-pot" method of making meth — which involves the use of pseudoephedrine, other chemicals and a plastic liter soft drink bottle — accounted for 78 percent of meth lab seizures through September of this year, according to Indiana State Police.
It is a problem throughout the state, not just Evansville. State police statistics show arrests related to meth labs have increased steadily, rising from 734 in 2009 to 1,063 as of September. There have been 1,238 meth labs reported to state police as of September.