The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 4, 2013

Berwick is meth epicenter of region

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — As Montour County reacts to the first methamphetamine bust in county history, many are wondering about the drug that has become a household name and the subject of a hit television show.

Methamphetamine — more commonly known as meth — is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It can be found in several forms, including powder, crystal, rocks and tablets, and can be taken by swallowing, snorting, smoking or injecting it with a hypodermic needle.

In northeastern and central Pennsylvania, Berwick has become the epicenter of the meth epidemic.

“We’ve done something like 28 busts (in Berwick) in the past year,” said John Soprano, regional director of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control in Wilkes-Barre, which covers Berwick.

The problem, Soprano said, is how easy it is to buy the ingredients to make meth.

Meth can be made using such common items as nail polish remover, paint thinner, drain cleaners, batteries and cough medicine.

“The ingredients are so easily accessible,” he said. “The only thing that’s monitored is the pseudoephedrine in cough syrups.”

While many store owners and clerks are aware of the ingredients used to make the drug, addicts often shop around to avoid raising suspicion, Soprano said.

“A lot of them won’t buy it all at the same store,” he said. “They might go to a department store and buy some drain cleaner, then go somewhere else and buy the fuel. ... They don’t want to call attention to themselves.”

The drug is cooked in “labs,” which can be found in homes, apartments, cars and motel rooms, according to the DOJ.

The labs are extremely dangerous because of the toxic mix of chemicals — many of which are flammable — that go into making the drug, Soprano said.

“It can kill you instantly if you breathe the wrong fumes,” he said. “We have to have the fire department on scene, ambulance on scene, our guys have to wear full (haz-mat) suits.”

The Berwick Area United Way has tips on how to spot meth labs on its homepage, saying, “Meth labs are plaguing our community.”

Tips for spotting a lab include: people showing up at all hours of the day and night and staying only a short time; dramatic changes in appearance and behavior of residents; a strong chemical odor coming from the residence; and covered windows and an increase in trash.

The odor of a meth lab can be compared to rotten eggs or cat urine, according to the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.

Aside from the dangers due to cooking meth, there are several harsh physical symptoms of meth use, according to the DOJ. Users often experience extreme weight loss and develop slow-healing open sores due to hallucinations of so-called “crank bugs” crawling underneath their skin.

Users also may develop “meth mouth,” due to “a combination of drug-induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in dry mouth and long periods of poor oral hygiene. ... And while they are high, users often crave high-calorie, carbonated, sugary beverages or they may grind or clench their teeth, all of which can harm teeth,” according to the American Dental Association.