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Meth Cases On The Rise In Some Northeast Kansas Counties

HOLTON — May 23 was a fairly routine day in Jackson County District Court. Judge Michael Ireland sat behind his bench, sentencing defendants.

One by one, defendants took a seat beside their attorney. Nearly all of the cases involved methamphetamine, which isn’t out of the ordinary for Ireland.

“We have a ton of meth cases,” Ireland said last week while standing in his courthouse office.

In fact, Ireland said, he thinks Jackson County sees more meth cases than Pottawatomie and Jefferson counties combined.

Most of the meth cases deal with direct possession of the drug, the sale of meth or someone burglarizing a home to obtain money for meth.

Jackson County isn’t the only northeast Kansas community dealing with an increase in meth cases.

Meth in Shawnee County also is on the rise, according to Sgt. Glenn Hawks, with the Shawnee County sheriff’s narcotics unit.

“Meth seems to be the majority of our problems,” he said. “Meth seems to be way worse than crack cocaine because of the availability. It’s a highly addictive drug.”

Users can inject the drug, smoke it or eat it.

“It’s easy to get,” Hawks said.

The high is longer lasting, and meth is cheaper than crack cocaine, he said.

Lee McGowan, chief of staff and spokesman for the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, said the amount of meth cases the DA’s office handles “doesn’t appear to be decreasing.”

“I think we see more meth cases than any other single drug,” McGowan said.

One-pot cook method/shake and bake

While Hawks and Ireland said their counties have seen a decrease in the number of large meth labs, there has been an increase in domestic production because of an easier method for concocting the addictive drug.

The “shake and bake” approach — also called one-pot cook method — allows manufacturers to create the drug by mixing a small amount of pseudoephedrine tablets in a bottle with other ingredients.

“You can put it all together in a two-liter pop bottle,” Ireland said.

Other methods require fire, cans of flammable liquids and dozens of pills. The items needed for “shake-and-bake” meth can fit in a small container or backpack. The mixing can happen anywhere. And the odor isn’t as noticeable, law enforcement officials said.

“People can cook in smaller quantities and are less likely to get caught,” Hawks said.

Increase/decrease in meth cases

Ireland said he is handling more meth cases than five years ago. The number increased about three years ago and is holding steady. In the last two years, Ireland has averaged 200-plus felony cases per year. Of that number, 70 percent are related to meth.

“There are people who use in every community,” Ireland said.

Jackson County Sheriff Tim Morse said most of the people incarcerated in Jackson County Jail are there on meth charges.

“It’s really an epidemic here in the Midwest,” Morse said. “It has some really devastating consequences.”

Some of the increase in Jackson County’s meth cases is related to people from outside the county visiting attractions, including the Prairie Band Casino and Resort, Ireland said. For example, visitors may get pulled over for expired tags, but law enforcement officials later discover meth. Others leave behind remnants of meth in their hotel room. The tribe declined comment.

US-75 highway is a “highly traveled road,” Morse said.

While some law enforcement agencies are noticing an increase in meth cases, others are seeing a decrease. Sheriff’s deputies in Osage and Jefferson counties haven’t noticed an uptick.

“We have our regulars,” said Jefferson County Undersheriff Bob Chartier. “I’m not going to say it’s not a problem. It’s a problem everywhere.”

However, a law restricting the amount and requiring people to show identification when purchasing over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in making meth, has helped, Chartier said.

“That is a wonderful law,” he said. “It really knocked down our meth labs. Before that law was instated, we were cleaning up labs — sometimes as many as three per week.”

Jackson County has had only one mobile meth lab bust in the past three years, Morse said.

“The drug cartels have really filled the demand for methamphetamine,” he said. “It can’t be produced (as easily) locally any more because of the changes in the laws.”

The shake and bake method isn’t a big issue in Jackson County, Morse said.

However, in Atchison County, the shake and bake method is a popular way to produce the drug, said Atchison County Attorney Jerry Kuckelman.

“I think all the new methods have made it easier,” Kuckelman said.

After the meth law passed, Atchison County had very few meth cases, he said. But a year ago, the shake and bake method became popular in the county.

The drug is highly addictive and causes physical and mental problems, law enforcement officials said. Jackson County Jail is seeing a higher number of people addicted to meth who have mental illness, Morse said.

“It is definitely an evil in our society,” he said. “It destroys a lot of people who have a lot of potential. It ruins their lives.”