MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury police are confronting a new drug threat — methamphetamine — that they fear could soon be joining prescription narcotics and heroin on the list of top illicit substances among addicts.
Methamphetamine, aka meth, is a highly addictive psycho-stimulant that can be injected, smoked or snorted. It is made from reducing, or cooking, some very common over-the-counter cold medicines that include ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed.
Police officials note that many addicts have taken to cooking the substance themselves using heat or such chemical catalysts as lithium from batteries, starter fluid, lye, iodine or acids. The result is clandestine meth labs that emit poisonous fumes and can literally explode, noted Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley.
“Meth is highly toxic, highly explosive and the process is poisonous,” Hanley said.
Barre authorities last year uncovered a suspected meth lab in that community. Middlebury police have yet to find a meth lab in town, but they are investigating an April 14 case that has them worried about what they could find in the near future.
On that date, workers at Middlebury Hannaford’s, Rite Aid Pharmacy and Kinney Drugs called police about some local men who had visited all three locations to purchase decongestants, in one case leaving with a total of 93 tablets. In another store, the men allegedly also asked to purchase some sulfuric acid.
State and federal laws limit the purchase of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Customers are limited to the purchase of 3.6 grams of such medicine (one box with 20 tablets) per day. Cold medicines containing such ingredients must now be kept behind the counter or in a locked case, and customers must sign a logbook.
Still, Hanley said meth addicts typically try to circumvent these restrictions by buying small quantities of cold medicine at many different pharmacies. They then pool the tablets into batches for cooking.
“We are glad the pharmacists gave us a call on this,” Hanley said of the April 14 case.
Since purchasers must sign before they buy, pharmacists can notice a pattern if the same customer buys a 20-pack of tablets on two or more consecutive days. A normal cold dose of one or two is supposed to last for at least four hours, Hanley noted.
“Ninety-six tablets is an awful lot for a therapeutic dose,” Hanley said. “It was a clear indicator that this (medicine) was not being used for therapeutic purposes.”
Meth is a scourge on users as well as on those who live near where it is produced, Hanley said.
“The destructive aspects of this drug are beyond the psycho-active part,” Hanley said. “This stuff will rot your teeth. It will age you very fast. It is awful stuff.”
Meth lab explosions have been known to take out entire buildings, according to Hanley.
“It’s the labs that really concern us,” Hanley said. “Anybody who is processing the stuff, in any form or process they are using, it’s dangerous.”
Middlebury police during the past couple of years have seized small quantities of meth, according to Hanley.
“It’s growing and growing now,” Hanley said of meth use. “We suspect there may be some meth labs in the general Addison County-Middlebury area. We are just starting to see it more and more.”
Meth use can trigger very active and unpredictable behavior in users, Hanley noted.
“It is a precursor to violence,” Hanley said. “It certainly impairs your decision-making and your mental functions.”
Authorities are asking residents to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity that might point to illegal drug use or sales. Hanley noted that people should easily be able to discern meth cooking if it is in their area, such as a neighboring apartment.
“It is not like a cooking odor,” Hanley said. “This is a pungent, acrid-type odor.”
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster agreed that meth has become an issue to contend with in the area.
“We definitely need to keep an eye on it,” said the county’s chief prosecutor, whose caseload routinely includes many drug- and alcohol-related cases. “(The meth problem) is growing across our communities.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]