GOSHEN — Methamphetamine lab seizures in northern Indiana counties are down, according to recently released 2016 data from the Indiana State Police. However, stakeholders say it still hasn’t curbed addiction issues.
In recent years, a number of laws at the federal and state levels have targeted the manufacture of meth, which state law enforcement and legislators said is reflected in the ISP’s data.
The ISP’s Meth Suppression Unit seized 22 labs within Elkhart County in 2016 compared to 41 in 2015. Those numbers also decreased in neighboring counties. Forty labs were seized in Kosciusko County in 2016 compared to 58 in 2015; seven labs were seized in LaGrange County in 2016 and 16 in 2015; and 43 in Noble County in 2016, where there were 70 labs seized in 2015.
Statewide seizures also dropped from 1,530 from 2015 to 983 last year, according to the ISP’s data. The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department has also had zero meth-offense investigations so far in 2017, according to data provided by the department. The department handled three such cases in 2016 and 16 in 2015.
ISP Meth Suppression Unit Sgt. Mike Toles said there are different reasons as to why the number of meth labs found in the Goshen area are decreasing. He said the suppression unit has anticipated the decrease, which is consistent with the national trend.
While local meth labs have decreased, Toles said a higher quality of imported meth from Mexican cartel members is on the rise, and heroin is also gaining more ground.
Even though the number of labs may be decreasing, the decline hasn’t stopped addiction.
“We still have an extreme addiction issue,” Toles said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
John Horsley, director of addiction services for Oaklawn, a community mental health and addictions provider that services Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, said while meth lab busts are down, Oaklawn’s staff has seen an increase in meth use among those seeking treatment. He also said heroin use continues to be another big problem.
“These things are hard to gauge from our standpoint because often we see them after the fact,” Horsley said via email Monday.
In an attempt to slow the manufacture of meth in Indiana, Toles said the legislature passed Senate Bill 80, which went into effect last July. That law allows pharmacists to deny the sale of pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medication used by cooks to make meth, if they suspect the drug will be used for illegal purposes. The bill also allows for a pharmacist to require that person to come back with a prescription to make the purchase. SB 80 also strengthened the regulations for those purchasing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, another common ingredient in over the counter medications.
According to ISP, in July 2013, state laws began limiting Hoosiers to purchasing 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine products in one day, 7.2 grams in a 30-day period and no more than 61.2 grams during the course of a year. Federal laws also required retailers in 2012 to begin using the National Precursor Log Exchange to track over-the-counter purchases of pseudoephedrine. Proof of identification is also required under federal law before an allowable purchase can be made.
Toles, along with state Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, said the restrictions added through SB 80 is helping combat meth production.
Nisly supported the Senate bill during last year’s legislative session.
“These county statistics signify the effectiveness of these recent reforms along with the hard work of area law enforcement,” Nisly said in a statement earlier this month.
Additionally, ISP data shows the number of children removed from locations where there were dangerous methamphetamine labs has nearly been cut in half since 2015. Meth lab sites have the ability to produce toxins that can be detrimental to health, while contaminating properties, requiring the assistance of ISP’s Meth Suppression Unit and sometimes a contracted clean-up professional.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of children being exposed, and waste and reduction at all these properties,” Toles said.