Crackdown on pain clinics to blame
By Samantha Joseph
TREASURE COAST -- The crackdown on illegal drug dissemination at some regional pain clinics has led to an increase in the use of another narcotic.
Law enforcement sources said prescription monitoring has made it more difficult to obtain controlled substances, driving some addicts to manufacture their own drugs and turn to the use of methamphetamine, or meth, a drug that stimulates the central nervous system.
In St. Lucie County, the special investigations unit alone has busted nine labs and made 16 arrests in the last six months, said supervisor Sgt. Scott Wells.
"I've been in this unit for about six years as a supervisor and I don't remember our unit doing this much (in terms of meth-related investigations)," Sgt. Wells said. "These cases were very sporadic. You'd get one every once in a while."
In Martin County, investigators from the sheriff's office and Drug Enforcement Administration discovered a meth lab on Nov. 29 after executing a search warrant at a Palm City home. The investigation led to the arrest of four people on manufacturing and possession charges.
Two months earlier, detectives with the special investigations unit arrested two people for manufacturing methamphetamine at a Stuart motel.
So far this year, detectives have uncovered three labs, compared to the remnants of one discovered in a garage in 2011, according to information from Rhonda Irons, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
But law enforcement sources said tougher regulation to stop prescription drug abuse has boosted methamphetamine manufacturing.
"Part of the issue is that over the last couple years, several of the pain clinics throughout the state have been shut down, so there are fewer pain clinics where people can go get pills," Sgt. Wells said.
"With many of the people we interview that have (meth) labs, one of the reasons they cite is that pills are more expensive now and harder to get. So this is kind of an alternative."
Many of the area labs are operated by people making the drug for personal use, he said.
In a market where one oxycodone pill can sell for $20 to $30, addicts are turning instead to meth, a drug with cheap ingredients, such as drain cleaner, acetone and cold medicine, Sgt. Wells said.
The drug's popularity is also growing, thanks to readily available manufacturing instructions, videos, recipes and step-by-step instructions posted online.
"But even if it wasn't online they were still going to find it. There's a lot of word of mouth. A lot of the labs are interrelated, with one person doing it and showing a friend," Sgt. Wells said.
"When people are used to getting something -- like the people who are used to pain meds as that availability decreases, they find something else to fill that void."