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Meth lab busts on decline in city

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The number of methamphetamine labs seized in 2013 dropped in the Columbus area, but police warn the county continues to have a troubling communitywide drug problem.

As it has been for a number of years, Bartholomew County is on the Indiana State Police list of Top 10 counties for meth lab seizures.

Bartholomew County is ninth on the list for 2013 with 43 lab seizures. That’s 10 fewer than in 2012, when the area was ranked sixth when compared to all 92 Indiana counties.

Although Decatur County, with 41 seizures, ranked 10th last year, other neighboring counties had substantially fewer drug lab seizures in 2013.

That includes Jennings County, which had 23 seizures last year — one more than North Vernon and surrounding areas experienced the previous year.

“Arrests for meth labs are down, but I think that is because heroin use is up,” Chief Deputy Maj. Jerry Shepherd said last April. “We see heroin popping up everywhere. It is back with a vengeance. It (heroin) is easier to get and harder to catch.”

Statistics indicate that’s also the case in Columbus. Heroin-related arrests jumped from only four in 2012 to 24 last year — a 500 percent increase in just one year, according to the 2013 Columbus Police annual report.

During the same period, meth-related arrests rose

54.5 percent, from 55 two years ago to 82 in 2013, the report stated.

Many still in operation

Indiana State Police acknowledges that not all suspected meth dealers are behind bars. In fact, the department last year identified 581 suspected meth lab operators who were never charged or taken into custody.

That number represents 38.5 percent of the 1,507 individuals arrested last year for operating meth labs in Indiana.

There is a public perception that the number of seizures represent total meth-lab activity, so a rise in the rankings might be viewed as an indication of a worsening meth problem.

But Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Myers offers a different insight.

“The cities who aren’t reporting (high) numbers are the cities I’d be concerned with,” Myers said. “Where you are seeing higher numbers, you are seeing counties where there’s aggressive law enforcement working proactively with concerned and informed residents to address the meth problem.”

The Indiana State Police reports 1,808 lab seizures throughout the Hoosier state in 2013 — up 4.5 percent from the previous year and up 20.5 percent from 2011.

Nationally, only Tennessee and Missouri had more seized meth labs than Indiana last year, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The cost

State Police statistics for 2013 show meth labs were responsible for:

27 civilians injured

17 officers injured

4 deaths

The Indiana State Police has 19 officers and investigators who work exclusively within the department’s nine-year-old Methamphetamine Suppression Section, but local and county police agencies are also trying to do their part of rid communities of illegal meth labs.

Last March, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown brought together 26 representatives from the medical, mental health, education, judicial, social services and funding sectors to begin addressing methamphetamine and prescription drug addictions.

“If the underlying issues aren’t taken care of, think of how many more car break-ins, thefts, burglaries and many other crimes we might see,” Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann said in August.

“The approach must be holistic,” said Linda Grove-Paul, vice president for recovery and innovation for Centerstone Behavioral Health Center. “It’s not just up to law enforcement to handle this.”

Brown said the drug-addiction coalition’s work evolved last year.

As new members were brought in, the group identified several objectives and were subdivided into three smaller groups capable of focusing their time and energies on addressing those objectives.

Many of the smaller groups have already set priorities and will soon be concentrating on ways to use current resources or possibly create new ones to solve specific problems, Brown said.

The substance abuse group is co-chaired by Shirley Arney ofCenterstone mental health and addiction services and Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Student Assistance Coordinator Larry Perkinson, the mayor said.

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