On paper, anyway, Summit County has a methamphetamine problem far out of proportion with any other county in Ohio. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the county leads the state with 395 known lab sites. By comparison, Cuyahoga County has reported 12; Hamilton, 22; and Montgomery, 23.
It is hard to believe that appetites for the illegal stimulant vary so widely. As Eric Wandersleben, a spokesman for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, told Rick Armon, a Beacon Journal staff writer, the results should “not necessarily be interpreted” as evidence of a severe problem in Summit County.
Rather, the disparities likely reflect a more aggressive approach by local law enforcement, especially the sheriff’s drug unit, formed in 2001. The unit has trained police officers across the county on what to look for, as well as worked with retail operations that sell the materials used to cook batches of methamphetamines, building a network of informants. More, the DEA only tallies meth lab sites actually reported by local law enforcement agencies, providing another explanation for disparities.
The data also suggest it may be time for Summit County to re-evaluate its longstanding war on methamphetamines. Once, meth had to be cooked in homemade labs often housed in apartments or rental houses. But about two years ago, production shifted to what is called the “shake and bake” method, in which ingredients are combined in a two-liter soda bottle, the entire operation fitting into a backpack.
After more than a decade of cracking down on methamphetamines, enforcement may be turning into a something more frustrating than productive, with small-scale drug operations popping up as soon as others have been smashed. If so, a greater emphasis may be placed on lessening demand, through education and outreach, and in steering drug offenders into treatment programs. A surge in heroin use also has become a priority.
That doesn’t mean ignoring methamphetamine enforcement, just that other options and other drug problems deserve attention.