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Lawmakers, Law Enforcement Face Growing Meth Problem

From his car outside a pharmacy in Monticello, Trooper Wesley Ennis was tracking a man he suspected was trying to buy what he needed to make meth, including the most important ingredient -- pseudoephedrine.

“What looked like a male back here, just got back in and they’re backing out now," an undercover officer told Ennis over the radio.

“All right. I’m clear," Ennis replied. "If they go into Kroger, I would like you to tail them, if you could please.”

As he listened to his police radio, Ennis monitored a laptop where he can watch real-time pseudoephedrine sales for every pharmacy in the state, and kept an eye on approaching traffic.

Indiana police made more than 1,500 meth lab busts last year, nearly 100 more than in 2014. The term "meth lab" conjures up images of rural homes and trailers, or a scene from "Breaking Bad," but these days most meth makers use what police call the "one-pot method." It's basically a plastic bottle with ingredients easily found in pharmacies and hardware stores. The explosive cocktails are now so easily concealed that Ennis says police even busted a "walking meth lab" in Lafayette.

Here we are in downtown Lafayette, and he is basically manufacturing meth as he's walking down the street.

“Sure enough, this guy had a live one-pot in a backpack that he was carrying," Ennis says. "So, here we are in downtown Lafayette, and he is basically manufacturing meth as he’s walking down the street.”

While crystal meth - imported mainly from Mexico -- is made in large labs using  complex chemistry, home-cooked methamphetamine ingredients are simple and include the crucial pseudoephedrine. That’s why Senate Bill 80 would require Hoosier pharmacists to decide if someone is eligible to purchase pseudoephedrine over-the-counter.

The Indiana State Police won't take a stance on pending legislation, but individual officers have seen the problem first-hand.

“The argument is, well, pseudoephedrine is a very effective nasal decongestant – and I agree it is," says Sergeant Mike Toles, Acting Commander of the Meth Suppression Unit. "But there’s also over 100 other – actually probably over 130 other medications out there that you can get by going to your pharmacy that don’t require a prescription that you can get to address that.”

Toles is a veteran in the meth suppression unit, and he's frustrated that despite law enforcement's best efforts, they haven't made more headway on a problem that too often involves innocent victims -- kids.  For him, it's a family health problem. It's a public health problem.

"We’re going to be over 300 children this year identified at labs. I hate to use this comparison – but sometimes it makes people think.  If a dog were locked inside of a home where they were manufacturing meth and the dog became ill or died because of it – people would be writing editorials – they would be outraged. Where’s the outrage?”

Where's the outrage?

Toles supervises meth investigators assigned in each of Indiana’s 13 state police districts, like trooper Ennis working the bust in Monticello. After undercover officers followed the suspect home, uniformed troopers helped arrest him.

Lawmakers this session are considering whether to deny pseudoephedrine for all felony drug offenders – not just those with meth convictions.

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