Sgt. Don Sherrard stands over a table with household cleaning products, cold medications and a few lab beakers. He calls it a standard “Beavis and Butt-head tweaker lab.”
It’s a setup he’s seen time and time again as an officer in the Phoenix Police Department’s drug enforcement section. Small labs cook up a cocktail of pills and household chemicals, destroying untold numbers of lives in the aftermath.
“It’s stuff you might use in the garden or shop. You take cold medications and mix with hazardous chemicals, and you’ve turned pseudoephedrine into meth,” he says. “It’s a highly addictive stimulant, and it drives people crazy. Meth leads to a life of nightmares.”
Sherrard and Richard Rosky, with the U.S. National Meth and Pharmaceutical Drugs Initiative in Phoenix, Ariz., delivered the meth awareness message to 120 Capital Region police officers, emergency responders and child welfare agents at Bear Mountain in Langford this week.
Most of the attendees already understand that meth is a catastrophically ruinous drug which can harm far more people than just the user. The American police officials offered a unnerving perspective from ground zero in the drug wars.
Sherrard listed off horror stories from the field, of parents murdering their children in fits of meth-driven psychosis. Rosky recalls a meth bust gone awry as tweaked-out drug dealers in a van ram through grocery carts and cars to escape capture.
“(Users) don’t care about relatives or their marriage, it’s about getting money for the habit,” Rosky tells the audience. “They don’t care about their children. You find houses with no hygiene, no food. The kids are on their own.”
Meth grew into an epidemic in the U.S. after pseudoephedrine medication was deregulated in the 1970s, Sherrard said. Mom-and-pop meth labs flourished into the 2000s, until the U.S. federal government had cold medications put behind the counter, limited purchase volumes and required pharmacists to take ID.
That created a job position called a “smurf” – people who spend their day travelling from pharmacy to pharmacy to purchase legal amounts of cold medications.
Mexican drug cartels are also competing in the meth market, Sherrard said, and are financing “superlabs” in California to cook industrial volumes of meth.
“You can’t import pseudophedrin into Mexico, you’ve got to smuggle it in,” Sherrard said. “Now in the U.S. they’re hiring smurfs to buy pseudophedrin. That’s all they do all day.”
Sherrard said the main message for emergency responders of all stripes is to be aware of the nature of meth users and the toxic, explosive environments created by meth labs.
“Meth goes so far beyond someone who is addicted to alcohol or cocaine. Other drugs don’t leave such a severe path of destruction,” Sherrard said. “It spreads like wildfire and takes hold in communities very fast.
“What we found works best is a co-operative effort between health services and law enforcement. You can’t arrest your way out of this problem.”
Police departments in the Capital Region often seize small quantities of meth during drug busts, but meth labs remain rare, especially compared to marijuana grow-ops.
West Shore RCMP Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz said the forum is designed to boost awareness of risks surrounding meth for emergency responders, and not allow local agencies to become complacent.
“The U.S. has dealt with meth for much longer and can speak to the long term impact on their communities,” she said.
“We want to keep (meth) in the forefront. There may not be a significant problem (in Greater Victoria), but we want to educate people and have them talk about this issue. The impact of meth is on so many levels. It permeates everything.”