Drug still top nar­cotic in North­west Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - HICHAM RAACHE

Metham­phetamine re­mains a prob­lem in North­west Arkansas de­spite fewer home­made labs and the spot­light on opi­oid abuse.

Pure grade meth rolls in from Mex­ico with cen­tral Arkansas a traf­fick­ing cross­roads, said Tim Jones, res­i­dent agent in charge of the Fayet­teville of­fice of the Drug En­force­ment Agency.

“We’re seiz­ing about 100 pounds per year,” Jones said of the North­west of­fice. “You fig­ure we’re only get­ting a small por­tion. It could be 1,000 pounds a year com­ing in.”

The Fayet­teville of­fice has ar­rested 1,738 peo­ple on meth-re­lated com­plaints and seized 633 pounds of meth in North­west Arkansas cities and Fort Smith since 2010, he said.

Mex­i­can meth brings an in­tense high for not a lot of money. It also comes with old meth-re­lated prob­lems, of­fi­cials said.

“Drugs fuel so many other crimes,” Jones said. “Peo­ple are ‘methed out’ to the point that real­ity doesn’t ex­ist for them. You’re deal­ing with peo­ple who are will­ing to hurt you to get their next high.”

Ben­ton County Cir­cuit Judge Tom Smith, who pre­sides over adult drug court, ju­ve­nile drug court and veter­ans treat­ment court, said ad­dic­tion feeds into other crimes such as theft, in­clud­ing break­ing into homes, and vi­o­lence.

“I’ve had cases where peo­ple have been on a con­trolled sub­stance, and they can’t tell why they did what they did be­cause they’re so out of their minds,” Smith said.

Metham­phetamine also can be fa­tal.

Carol David­son, 35, of Siloam Springs died as a re­sult of meth use. Rose­marry David­son, her 22-mon­thold daugh­ter, died along­side her. They went miss­ing Nov. 12 and their bod­ies were found in Fe­bru­ary near Look­out Tower Road, roughly 12 miles south­east of Siloam Springs.

The Arkansas Crime Lab­o­ra­tory de­ter­mined Carol David­son died ac­ci­den­tally be­cause of metham­phetamine in­tox­i­ca­tion with con­tribut­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal hy­pother­mia. The child’s death was left un­de­ter­mined, but most likely due to star­va­tion or en­vi­ron­men­tal hy­pother­mia, Sgt. Shan­non Jenk­ins with the Ben­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said in April.


Meth en­ters the U.S. through the south­ern bor­der states and is taken across the coun­try on ma­jor high­ways and in­ter­states. In­ter­states 40 and 30 are the two ma­jor traf­fick­ing cor­ri­dors in Arkansas. Ship­ments through Lit­tle Rock have re­sulted in law en­force­ment mak­ing 100-pound seizures. Ship­ments in and through North­west Arkansas tend to range from 10 to 20 pounds, Jones said.

“It has slowly changed from home­made metham­phetamine to Mex­i­can metham­phetamine,” said Lt. Jeff Tay­lor, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Spring­dale Po­lice De­part­ment. “This is due to the pu­rity be­ing higher and items to man­u­fac­ture home­made metham­phetamine are harder to come by.”

Jones has worked in the Fayet­teville DEA of­fice for four to five months, but he’s been with the DEA for 20 years. He was an agent in Florida in 2004.

Mex­i­can meth has be­come the pre­ferred meth ev­ery­where, push­ing out lo­cal labs, Jones said.

Mex­i­cans who smug­gled co­caine into the U.S. for Colom­bian car­tels de­cided to go into busi­ness for them­selves and man­u­fac­ture meth, Jones said.

The gang MS-13 is in­volved with im­port­ing meth, serv­ing as smug­glers, said Jones, who cred­its state and lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies with pre­vent­ing gangs from es­tab­lish­ing a foothold in North­west Arkansas.

Mex­i­can meth man­u­fac­tur­ers make a prod­uct 90 per­cent to 95 per­cent pure in large lab­o­ra­to­ries, whereas home­made labs have a 50 per­cent or lower pu­rity level, Jones said.

“In the early 2000s, there would be guys who couldn’t sell their prod­uct be­cause the pu­rity was so low,” Jones said. “The su­per labs [in Mex­ico] re­fined the process.”

Jones said his of­fice saw a sud­den rise in metham­phetamine seizures be­tween 2010 and 2012, go­ing from seiz­ing 10 to 15 pounds of meth a year to 95 to 110 pounds.

“That’s when the su­per labs started tak­ing hold,” he said. “Peo­ple south of our bor­ders saw an op­por­tu­nity and jumped all over it.”

Meth is moved from Mex­ico to the U.S. as any sup­ply chain, said Sgt. Chris Moad with the 4th Ju­di­cial District Drug Task Force based in Fayet­teville.

“Large quan­ti­ties are typ­i­cally smug­gled across the bor­der and then dis­persed to or­ga­ni­za­tional con­tacts,” Moad said. “Those con­tacts dis­perse smaller quan­ti­ties to area deal­ers, who then fur­ther dis­perse it. This may start in the hun­dreds of pounds and be dis­persed all the way to a small lo­cal dealer who sells grams.”

Meth is brought into the U.S. in crystal form or as a liq­uid taken to a con­ver­sion lab and crys­tal­ized, Tay­lor said.

Mex­i­can meth also is cheaper to buy com­pared to any­thing made lo­cally. One pound of Mex­i­can meth has a street value of $8,000 to 10,000. It sells for $500 to $700 an ounce.

“That’s mainly be­cause of the mass quan­ti­ties that they’re mak­ing in these su­per labs. It drives the price down,” Jones said. “When you make 40 pounds in a cook in­stead of 4 ounces, then you have a larger quan­tity to sell and you can lower your prices.”

Detri­men­tal ef­fects on the use are the same de­spite the pu­rity, Jones said.

“It’s very cor­ro­sive to the body,” he said.


Meth isn’t as easy to man­u­fac­ture lo­cally as it used to be. The stim­u­lant had its hey­day in the early 2000s, but fed­eral and state law­mak­ers made moves in the mid-2000s to cur­tail meth manufacturing.

Congress passed the Com­bat Metham­phetamine Epi­demic Act in 2005 re­quir­ing phar­ma­cies and stores sell­ing medicine to keep pur­chase logs of all prod­ucts con­tain­ing pseu­dophedrine, an in­gre­di­ent used to make meth, and limit the amount of prod­ucts a per­son could pur­chase over time. Pseu­dophedrine is de­con­ges­tant used in cold, al­lergy and si­nus medicines.

Arkansas started its fight the same year when the Gen­eral Assem­bly passed Act 256, which re­quired phar­ma­cies to sell cer­tain cold med­i­ca­tions from be­hind the counter. Act 508 was passed in 2007 to cre­ate a law en­force­ment data­base to track pseu­dophedrine amounts sold in each phar­macy. Act 588, passed in 2011, re­quires phar­ma­cists to make a “pro­fes­sional de­ter­mi­na­tion” on whether some­one with­out a med­i­cal pre­scrip­tion needs pseu­dophedrine based on symp­toms and med­i­cal his­tory.

North­west Arkansas meth manufacturing has be­come rare be­cause of these re­stric­tions, of­fi­cials said.

“There’s al­most no manufacturing ar­rests,” Sgt. Jason French of the Fayet­teville Po­lice De­part­ment said. “We ar­rest a num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als for traf­fick­ing, de­liv­ery, pos­ses­sion with pur­pose to de­liver and pos­ses­sion.”

There were close to 1 mil­lion pur­chases of pseu­dophedrine in the state be­fore Act 588 was passed. That num­ber fell to 191,926 a year af­ter the law was en­acted, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Crime In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

The North­west Arkansas meth labs that re­main are crude and mi­nus­cule, Tay­lor said.

“The ones that are lo­cated are one-pot and old-fash­ioned an­hy­drous am­mo­nia labs,” Tay­lor said.

Spring­dale po­lice made 47 meth-re­lated ar­rests in 2011. Only two of those were in con­nec­tion with manufacturing. Spring­dale has only made two other meth manufacturing ar­rests since then, both in 2013, ac­cord­ing to num­bers pro­vided by Tay­lor.


North­west Arkansas law en­force­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing po­lice de­part­ments in Fayet­teville, Spring­dale, Rogers and Ben­tonville as well as sher­iffs’ of­fices in Ben­ton and Wash­ing­ton coun­ties, de­scribe metham­phetamine as ei­ther the most abused nar­cotic in their area or at the top along­side opi­oids, which are pre­scrip­tion-strength painkillers.

“Meth is by far the most abused nar­cotic in Ben­ton County,” Jenk­ins said.

Spring­dale po­lice have detectives as­signed to the DEA’s task force and the 4th Ju­di­cial District as well as its own nar­cotics di­vi­sion, Tay­lor said.

Un­der­cover op­er­a­tions are es­sen­tial to bust meth dis­tri­bu­tion, and turn­ing those ar­rested for meth pos­ses­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion into in­for­mants is the DEA’s “bread and but­ter,” Jones said.

“Ev­ery­body talks. Even those who swear they won’t, they will even­tu­ally,” he said.

Car­tels have found it more dif­fi­cult to get meth into the U.S. in re­cent months, Jones said.

Tighter bor­der se­cu­rity and greater scru­tiny on gangs and drug traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions has caused a “slight de­cline” in dis­tribut­ing and sell­ing meth, he said.


De­ci­sion Point, 602 N. Wal­ton Blvd. in Ben­tonville, treats sub­stance ad­dic­tions. Many of its clients are re­ferred to them by the court sys­tem.

De­ci­sion Point treated 813 peo­ple in fis­cal 2016. About 40 per­cent, or 324, re­ported meth as their pri­mary drug of choice; 249 peo­ple, or 30 per­cent, re­ported al­co­hol as their pri­mary ad­dic­tion; and 153, or about 19 per­cent, re­ported opi­oids.

De­ci­sion Point only treats adults, said Ray­mon Carson, its re­gional direc­tor.

“But there are kids who abuse meth,” Carson said. “I’ve had clients talk to me about their age at first use. The youngest per­sons I’ve heard about us­ing metham­phetamine are 9 and 10 years old.”

A woman who re­ceived treat­ment at De­ci­sion Point, and who asked not to be named, said she started us­ing drugs 22 years ago. She said 14 years ago she tried meth for the first time. The drug gave her a eu­phoric feel­ing, she said, and she quickly be­came ad­dicted. She be­gan mak­ing the drug and even­tu­ally was tak­ing more than she was mak­ing.

She lost her job and ended up in prison, she said. She started us­ing meth about a year af­ter her re­lease from prison and was ar­rested again. That’s when she checked her­self into De­ci­sion Point. Sober now, she cred­its treat­ment, Nar­cotics Anony­mous and her re­solve to give up drugs.

While meth is the top nar­cotic in North­west Arkansas, Jones doesn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the rise of opi­oids.

“The guys sell­ing meth are still try­ing to get into the pills and the opi­oids,” he said. “It’s all driven by cash and greed.”

Jones said it’s hard to tell whether meth will in­crease or de­cline in North­west Arkansas, but he’s op­ti­mistic.

“I be­lieve with ed­u­ca­tion, things will get bet­ter,” he said. “The ef­forts at the bor­der are mak­ing it harder to get the stuff in here, and we are do­ing what we do to get the drug preda­tors and stop what they’re do­ing, which is just in time for us to fo­cus on the opi­oid epi­demic.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Ray­mon Carson, direc­tor of De­ci­sion Point, poses for a photo Mon­day in the Ob­ser­va­tional Care Unit at the fa­cil­ity in Ben­tonville.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

A view of De­ci­sion Point on Mon­day in Ben­tonville.

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