News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 15, 2014

Meth, pot remain Valley’s drugs of choice

Appeal of heroin increasing in parts of Midwest

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As Indianapolis police make headlines in their battle against a growing heroin problem in central Indiana, the illegal drug problem in the Wabash Valley seems to remain hooked on methampetamine and marijuana.

“We don’t have that much demand for heroin,” said Detective Denzil Lewis, a Terre Haute Police officer assigned to the Vigo County Drug Task Force. “Methamphetamine seems to be the drug of choice in this area.”

Prescription drug abuse and marijuana are also the reason for many drug-related arrests in Vigo County.

“Marijuana is probably number one around here, for sure,” Lewis said, and it is the main reason for much of the drug-related crime in the county. Recent incidents of shootings, physical assaults and home invasions have been connected to the marijuana trafficking “industry” in Terre Haute, he said.

The clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine continues in the community, he said, but police have seen a change in how the highly addictive and destructive drug is made and traded.

“It’s become a lot more covert with the one pot method,” he said, referring to the current practice of making a batch of meth using a plastic drink container.

“It’s a lot more mobile and quicker, and it’s harder for law enforcement to detect,” he said.

The process for making the drug has become so refined that “cookers” often carry the meth lab around with them in a backpack or diaper bag or even stuck down the front of their pants, said Sgt. Chris Gallagher of the Terre Haute Police Department. It is a dangerous process, and  many people receive serious burn injuries when the one pot lab “blows up” in their face.

Prescription drug abuse – such as oxycontin, hydrocodone and morphine – also remains a problem, Lewis said. And that has prompted him to work on a drug take-back program that will set up drop-off points around the city, so people can dispose of unwanted and unused drugs, rather than have those items fall into the hands of potential drug abusers.

Lewis said he hopes to have drop-off points set up in early April.

Vermillion County Sheriff Robert Spence said his deputies regularly collected unused prescription medication as part of their duties.

“We have a program that whenever there is a home death and we respond to it, we gather all the medications of the deceased and dispose of it,” Spence said, noting that drug drop-off sites have also been set up around the county.

The major drug problems going on in Vermillion County, however, continue to be methamphetamine and marijuana, Spence said.

“Meth is still a huge problem. I am hoping the state will make pseudoephedrine a prescription situation, and that will help a lot,” he said, referring to the essential over-the-counter drug needed as part of a meth recipe.

A new problem that Vermillion County police have seen during the past two years, however, has been the influx of heroin.

In northern Vermillion County especially, police have noticed a startling increase in the number of controlled substance arrests that involve heroin. While he did not have any statistics available to say how many arrests have been made, Sheriff Spence did tie the increase in heroin use to a community change in neighboring Vermilion County, Ill.

As low-income housing projects were closed in the Chicago area, many of those people had to relocate to other communities with available housing. That resulted in a demographic change as many low-income Chicagoans moved to the Champaign-Urbana area, as well as the Danville, Ill., area, where federally-subsidized housing was developed.

Lewis and Spence agree that heroin migrated to east central Illinois along with the relocating Chicagoans.

“A lot of those people who moved into that area brought their problems with them,” Lewis said.

For a brief time in summer 2013, Vigo County saw a brief surge in heroin arrests, he said, but that quickly died down.

Spence, however, said the heroin problem is growing in his county.

“It’s flooding over from Danville, Ill,” he told the Tribune-Star. “It is dangerous and it is coming into this county.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.