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EDITORIAL: Keeping eyes on meth during epidemic

Daily Item - 11/8/2017

Nov. 08--America has rightly turned its attention to opioids and heroin over the past few years; the death toll demands our attention. The challenge in combating the epidemic is that options we think or hope have diminished, sneak back into our consciousness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 64,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2016, including more than 50,000 combined from opioids and heroin. The number is likely to be similar this year, as the data curve continues to, unfortunately, trend nearly straight upward.

However, methamphetamine overdoses are also on the rise -- not at the same rate as opioids and heroin -- but the CDC reports 7,663 people died from a meth overdose in 2015. The total has increased every year since 2008.

Local law enforcement officials say abuse and sale of meth is on the rise, echoing what state officials see across the commonwealth. Even with the increase in awareness around opioids and heroin, law enforcement officials have kept their eyes on meth. Ten people were arrested in May for allegedly operating a methamphetamine ring in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. Three people were arrested last month in Snyder County.

"In the western end of (Union County), I feel that meth is more of a problem than heroin. It's cheap to make. It doesn't take a lot of ingenuity," Mifflinburg Police Chief Fred Dyroff said. Labs have been found in neighborhoods in Union County, a hotel in Allenwood and in a forest near the Danville State Hospital, each creating a safety hazard that extends well beyond the drug once it reaches the street.

With a volatile mix of chemicals, making methamphetamine can lead to everything from severe chemical burns to the "cook," to potential explosions that can rattle a neighborhood. On Oct. 20, police said a meth lab exploded in Mifflinburg, causing the building to catch fire and leading to the arrest of a tenant, 59-year-old Patrick Mullany. Fortunately, the damage was limited to the one property.

When a lab is located, state police must call in the Clandestine Lab Response Team to safely dispose of the drug-making materials.

"You're one agitation of that bottle from blowing up yourself or someone else," said Todd Owens, head of the Northumberland Montour Drug Task Force. "Homemade meth production is dangerous for a neighborhood. It can blow up or burn down a couple houses in one swoop."

While everyone focuses on the higher profile opioid and heroin crisis, it is vital to remember what is lurking in the shadows. So far it appears law enforcement is managing this balancing act as best as possible.

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(c)2017 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.)

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