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Sheriff says war on meth drug labs never-ending

The number of methamphetamine labs is growing. Sheriff Dawsy seeks the public's to help find and eradicate them.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published November 3, 2005


INVERNESS - When Citrus Sheriff Jeff Dawsy talks about the county's efforts to stop the spread of methamphetamine, he uses language pulled right from a battlefield.

"We are truly at war," he says, speaking to a roomful of deputies and reporters.

A bit later, he's talking about the impact of meth on the children of drug addicts.

"It's a never-ending battle," he says.

In the last couple of years, meth has moved into Citrus County. The drug, known for its prevalence in rural parts of the country and its recipe of household products, is spreading quickly, Dawsy said.

From October 2003 to September 2004, local authorities seized two meth labs in Citrus. From October 2004 to September 2005, they seized 16.

To combat the problem, the Sheriff's Office created the Meth Task Force, a group of eight law enforcement officials assigned to concentrate on the meth problem. On Wednesday afternoon, the deputies spoke with reporters as part of their plan to alert people about the dangers of meth as well as how to recognize the signs of meth labs and addicts in their neighborhoods.

Since the creation of the task force, deputies have made 47 arrests, 22 of them involved in the production of meth.

It's not going to be easy to eradicate meth, Dawsy said. For one thing, it's easy to get most of the ingredients to manufacture the drug. For another, it's a tightly knit group of people in the community who cook it, so it's difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate, he said.

But, fortunately for Citrus officials, meth isn't a new issue for much of the country, so local officials can evaluate how other agencies have dealt with the problem.

"This is probably the number one pressing issue in the nation," he said.

Meth has already caused a lot of problems here, the sheriff said.

A cooking mistake at a meth lab was to blame in a fire in 2002 near Arrowhead. Dawsy called meth a "catalyst" for other crimes. Meth is expensive - $100 per gram - and many people addicted to it resort to stealing in order to support their habit, said detectives Kris Bentz and Robbie Crosnoe.

Addicts can stay awake for days at a time, hallucinate and become extremely paranoid, putting the welfare of their children in jeopardy, deputies said. Their quality of life deteriorates significantly because of the drug, they said.

To illustrate the point, deputies showed before-and-after photographs of meth users. The later images showed people with open sores on their faces, reddish and blotchy skin and rotting teeth.

Deputies briefly explained the two types of meth use, hoping to inform the community about signs of meth labs, which can be found in something as small as a gym bag and as large as a farm field.

The first type is the "Nazi" method, a recipe that involves anhydrous ammonia, a substance commonly used to fertilize farm fields. At this type of lab, officials usually see multiple tanks of the ammonia.

The second type of the "Red Phosphorous" method, which uses the chemical to create the drug. The ingredients must be heated, which can cause deadly fumes.

Another reason to combat meth is the cost of cleaning up these labs, said Patty Jefferson, a member of the county's Hazmat team. In 2004, lab clean-up cost the Drug Enforcement Administration about $773,000, deputies said.

Deputies urged residents to look out for meth labs in their neighborhoods. Some signs include: a strong chemical odor; blacked out or covered windows; lots of traffic from a home at night; lots of bottles or jugs; and chemical containers.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or vansickle@sptimes.com

GOT A TIP? If anyone has information about meth use or a lab, the task force can be reached at the Sheriff's Office at 726-4488.