Now methamphetamine is moving to Indiana's cities

(INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.) -- Methamphetamine labs -- a growing hazard for years in Indiana's rural and suburban counties -- may be moving into the big city.

A fire Sunday at a Far-Westside motel led to what State Police said was the first meth lab found in Marion County in several years.

Area police agencies said that methamphetamine is growing in popularity among drug users here and that more labs could spring up to help meet the demand.

"It has been mostly rural as far as most of the labs, but it is now starting to show up more and more in Marion County," said Lt. J.T. Jones, assistant commander for special investigations with the Marion County Sheriff's Department.

Wayne Township firefighters were called about 11:30 p.m. Sunday to the Dollar Inn in the 6300 block of Crawfordsville Road. When they arrived, firefighters found chemicals and equipment often used in methamphetamine production in a burned-out second-floor room, said Capt. Gene Konzen of the Wayne Township Fire Department.

Sheriff's Department investigators interviewed a woman who had booked the room but made no arrests Monday.

First Sgt. David Phelps of the Indiana State Police said motel rooms provide an ideal location for methamphetamine production. The rooms offer seclusion, utilities and exhaust fans to clear out fumes.

"When they're done, they can pack up and leave," he said.

Jones said those making methamphetamine often are highly mobile and can stay ahead of investigators by going from motel to motel.

"That way it's not traced back to their home," he said. "They can get in there, cook what they need and get out of there."

Methamphetamine, also known as speed, crank or ice, often is described as "the poor man's cocaine." It is generally cheaper than crack cocaine and produces a high that lasts much longer.

It is easy to make, requiring only household chemicals and over-the-counter medicines. Instructions on how to make it are readily available and can even be found on the Internet.

Jones and Lt. Randall West, head of the Indianapolis Police Department narcotics branch, said methamphetamine use locally still ranks below marijuana and crack cocaine, but they believe it is catching up in popularity.

"Those in the know predict there's going to be a growing methamphetamine drug epidemic, if you will, in the coming months," West said.

That trend is reflected in the skyrocketing number of meth labs discovered in recent years. So far this year, State Police have investigated 263 meth labs across the state.

That's already more than double the 128 labs found in 1999 and six times the 43 found in 1998.

Until now, meth labs have been found primarily in western and southern Indiana, notably near Evansville, Crawfordsville, Terre Haute and Vincennes, Phelps said.

However, as law enforcement intensifies, meth makers have been moving east, he said. In recent months, investigators have found labs in several central Indiana counties, including Boone, Hendricks and Johnson.

"We probably have some kind of activity in every county in the state," Phelps said. "It's just finding it."

One reason meth labs have been discovered more in rural and suburban areas may be that the distinctive smells associated with meth production stand out more, Phelps said.

"A lot of the smells are not really something that would be noticeable in close proximity of a town," he said.

IPD's West said another reason may be that meth users here already have a ready supply from large producers in California and Mexico. So far, meth users haven't found a need to make it locally, he said.

"They (large producers) are bringing enough meth into the county already. They probably don't need to," he said. "But I'm sure some entrepreneur will at some point in time."

(iSyndicate; The Indianapolis Star; Nov. 14, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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