Welcome to Indiana, the Methamphetamine State.
It just hurts to write that of this deadly scourge that hollows out faces, lives and families, that rots away teeth, and is now threatening to engulf our cities and towns, as well as creating toxic waste sites along our county roads and highways.
I watched Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer at the Statehouse on Tuesday, holding up a box of Nexafed, and for a brief moment he struggled to keep his composure. Then he related to what happened in his city the prior weekend.
That's when a methamphetamine lab exploded at a Days Inn motel, injuring a 36-year-old man who, Thallemer explained, had a lengthy meth-related rap sheet. The blast was strong enough to "blow the toilet off the floor" while displacing the ceiling by four inches. A 22-year-old bystander was also injured when he attempted to put out the ensuing blaze.
By the time Warsaw police located the meth maker, his clothes and skin were smoldering and his hair, the mayor said, had been burned off his scalp. "We had to send the addict to a hospital Fort Wayne in a helicopter where he'll be for a long time," Thallemer said. "Who pays? The motel owner will pay. The hospital will pay."
The incident, Thallemer noted, became "just another story buried on page 5 in the Fort Wayne newspaper."
And that, my friends, is a scandal of passivity that needs to be immediately and effectively dealt with by Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly. They have until April 29 to get this right.
The statistics are alarming. Indiana State Police busted a record 1,726 meth labs in 2012, up from 1,437 in 2011, another 1,104 in 2008 and 803 in 2006. That last figure was down from the 1,137 meth labs in 2005 that prompted then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to press for limits in the purchase of over-the-counter cold medicines such as Sudafed and Nexafed, the key meth ingredient.
But even more alarming are the number of children caught in this nightmare epidemic. According to Indiana State Police statistics, 372 children were found in clandestine meth labs in 2012, another 362 in 2011 and 270 in 2010.
The visual is this: A dirty waif with a loaded diaper, a diet of Cheetos, exposed to a toxic environment by parents or “guardians” cooking up evil.
Imagine being the person staying in the room above a meth lab in a Days Inn motel. Or next door.
The new trend in smaller Indiana cities is for meth labs to operate in motels. The crime spree has run a course from homes and garages, to vehicles, shopping carts and now motels, similar to how the crack cocaine crisis in places like Fort Wayne went through phases, with hundreds of crack houses popping up, then crime sprees such as burglaries, turf wars and drive-by shootings.
Last November, Thallemer observed the meth production moving into motels, and he wrote hoteliers asking them to be diligent in efforts to prevent meth manufacturing, according to a local Warsaw blog. “The battle to end this scourge must be fought at all levels," Thallemer said. "The cost of these crimes includes big dollars spent for toxic cleanup, medical care, investigation, prosecution, incarceration, rehabilitation, family social services, etc. The real cost of these crimes, however, is the human toll on the victim, their families and our community.”
"What should we do?" the mayor asked at the Indiana Statehouse.
Just minutes before, Gov. Mike Pence had lauded local officials who represented the first line of service to 70 percent of the state's population that live in our cities and towns. "When I meet someone in local government, I feel very humble," Pence said, adding that his door is open.
If Thallemer walked through the governor’s door, the mayor would explain, "Unless you choke off the supply of Sudafed, it will only get worse. Something has to be done."
He noted that SB 496 restricts the annual over-the-counter purchase of Sudafed to "85 boxes a year." He added, "While that's a step in the right direction, it doesn't do what needs to be done."
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said there have been 111 meth lab busts in his city and in Vanderburgh County in the past year. He noted state Rep. Ron Bacon had pushed for a four-month supply, and not the eight-month supply in the current legislation. "My hope is for a four-month supply," Winnecke said.
State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, remembered Daniels calling for a meth-free Indiana. "We have made inroads," she said, noting Indiana still ranks third in the nation in meth production. "But we don't make a difference until we make Sudafed a prescription drug."
"What are we doing for children in our community?" Kubacki asked.
That’s the question that needs to be raised by anyone who crosses the path of our governor and any legislator.
This is a scandal. Ask them, “What are you going to do about it?”