They say it makes you see ghosts; that it makes you paranoid, aggressive; that it’s clean and strong, not like the old stuff; and right now, it’s pure, potent and plentiful.
Methamphetamine is no stranger to Highland County. Officials say that before opioids took center stage here, bootleg meth concocted in Gatorade bottles was the drug of choice for many. Then came fentanyl and carfentanil, powerful synthetic cousins of heroin that claimed more than a dozen lives here in 2017 and thousands more around the state. But officials now say that with a decline in opioid use comes an increased presence of methamphetamine on both a local and state level — but this kind of meth isn’t made in our back yard.
“I don’t know where it’s coming from,” Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins said Thursday, “but it’s more pure, and its effect is substantial.”
Collins said she believes this type of methamphetamine, commonly referred to as “ice,” is manufactured elsewhere since there aren’t as many meth labs in the area as there once were. Wherever its origin may be, she said, it’s easy to obtain here.
The prosecuting attorney said she noticed this past summer that there was a substantial uptick in methamphetamine possession cases, and the number has only increased since — even eclipsing heroin and other opioid possession cases.
“It definitely is on the rise,” she said. “Methamphetamine is just continuing to be prevalent.”
The local phenomenon follows a larger trend of methamphetamine abuse catching up with or replacing opioid abuse around the state.
The Associated Press recently reported that the number of drug overdose deaths involving meth or other stimulants soared last year in Ohio, and The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that the number of Ohioans who died from unintentional overdoses involving meth or other psychostimulants jumped from nine in 2010 to 517 in 2017.
According to Orman Hall, an Ohio University researcher and a former head of the state’s addiction services agency, meth addiction in Ohio is increasing dramatically.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant, which means it speeds up bodily activity and causes a euphoric “high,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. But those who use the drug can also experience significant anxiety, confusion and violent behavior, as well as paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, according to the NIDA.
Collins said she has prosecuted a number of cases in Highland County where suspects broke into houses while the residents were home, resulting in violent encounters fueled by paranoia.
“They fight the homeowners to stay in the house because they’re high on this stuff and they believe there’s somebody or something after them,” she said, “everything from little men in white coats to a ghost.”
The prosecuting attorney said many drug users often have no idea what they’re putting in their body, and once they’ve shot up, snorted or eaten, they have “no control over what they’re doing.”
Sheriff Donnie Barrera confirmed there has been a spike in methamphetamine use, and that it began in mid-summer last year. The sheriff said people who use methamphetamine often appear “more hyper and jittery,” and their behavior is unpredictable.
“You don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said. “It seems like they can snap at any second.”
Dr. Jeff Beery, the Highland County coroner, said there were four deaths in 2017 that he directly attributed to methamphetamine overdose and none in 2018. But the doctor said the mortality associated with methamphetamine goes deeper than overdose numbers.
“Overdose might be a word that’s a little too specific to capture the problem,” he said. “A drug-related death is really where the illicit drug is in proximity. I put it on the chain of events.”
For example, Beery said, a violent double fatality on Powell Road in December of 2017 may have been fueled by methamphetamine, since two of the suspects involved had used meth on the night of the incident, and he said methamphetamine was also at play in a Lynchburg-area shooting in 2018.
Beery said meth “makes you really aggressive and strong,” and often clouds judgment. He also said its effect on the body, when used in excess, can be catastrophic.
The coroner recalled one fatality where a lethal mix of methamphetamine, ecstasy and marijuana caused the body to continue running a 107-degree fever for up to an hour after death.
“He literally cooked from the inside,” Beery said.
As for the reason behind this local trend, Collins said she had no answers.
“Maybe this ice is easier to get ahold of suddenly,” she said, or maybe enough people got “scared” by the opioid death toll in 2017.
Whatever the reason, Collins said parents are the solution.
“We have got to be talking to our kids at a young age,” she said. “You can’t wait until the kids are in high school to have a drug talk.”
Collins said studies have shown children are exposed to illicit drug use at younger ages now, and the best way to prevent drug abuse when they’re older is to communicate with them about it when they are young.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.