Methamphetamine use is on the rise in Galveston County and throughout the state, stoking concerns that an increase in criminal activity will follow, officials said.
Galveston police saw a dramatic increase in the amount of meth seized last year, from a little more than 200 grams in 2012 to about 3,000 grams seized in 2013, police Chief Henry Porretto said. The number of possession and distribution cases being prosecuted also is on the rise.
Galveston functions as a “distribution hub” for the drug, which is largely produced in Mexico then smuggled into the U.S., Porretto said.
“It’s coming from the Mexican cartel and the Aryan Brotherhood here,” he said.
Trafficking and use of meth can cause other societal and criminal problems, from individuals behaving dangerously while under the influence to violence between dealers, Porretto said.
“Once it takes off, it leads to other crime, and that’s why it’s so imperative to get a handle on it,” he said. “Once distribution points are increased, we won’t be able to stem the flow.”
Law enforcement agencies in the county work with the Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI on narcotics investigations.
At a local level, limited manpower prevents police from going beyond regular patrol busts and committing resources to build larger cases as often as investigators would like, Porretto said.
“We need the latitude to do long-term investigations,” he said. “With narcotics crimes, you have to see the handheld delivery.”
A spokeswoman for the DEA office in Houston did not return phone messages.
Jane Maxwell, senior research scientist at the Addiction Research Institute of the University of Texas at Austin, said the potency and purity of the meth flowing in from the south pose a national problem that has not been seen before.
Meth use in the country first peaked in the mid-2000s, when much of it was produced using a “shake and bake” method that relied in part on over-the-counter chemicals bought at drugstores, mainly pseudoephedrine contained in some cold medicines.
The improvised labs used for the “shake and bake” meth were prone to explosions and other accidents, and created a low-quality product, Maxwell said.
A federal law limiting the sale of products with pseudoephedrine went into effect in 2006, and most of the meth in the U.S. is now made in relatively high-tech, cartel-operated laboratories in Mexico, Maxwell said.
“These are people in white lab coats making it,” she said. “It’s not easy to do, but they are so good at it now that we’re seeing meth that is 95 percent potent and in some cases 99 percent pure. It’s more addictive and more dangerous than was previously the case.”
The feelings of euphoria caused by taking the drug can lead to psychosis and other mental health problems, and dramatically harms users’ bodies, Maxwell said. Increases in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases also can be tracked to meth use, she said.
In 2012, state poison control centers received 279 calls related to human exposure to methamphetamine. That number skyrocketed in 2013, when about 510 meth-related calls were reported, Maxwell said.
Law enforcement agencies face numerous problems in stopping the spread of the dangerous drug, she said. Demand remains high, and there’s little U.S. agencies can do to stop meth production in Mexico.
In many cases, smugglers will transport the meth across the border in liquid form before drying it out and preparing it for sale, Maxwell said. Meth contained in bottles can be harder to detect.
The problem is likely to spread, she said.
“I think we’re on the verge of another meth epidemic,” she said. “We’re already seeing that in Texas.”
Contact reporter Alex Macon at 409-683-5241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.