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Sheriff speaks about 'Meth Madness'

September 03, 2008
Last Tuesday morning, students at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School were treated to a presentation entitled "Meth Madness: The Methamphetamine Epidemic" by Daviess County (Ky.) Sheriff Keith Cain.

Cain was introduced by Crawford County Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg, who told the large crowd of students that she had seen him speak in Indianapolis a year ago and thought it would be great to have him speak in Crawford County.

Hillenburg listed the accolades of the three-term sheriff that included his service in the Marines Corps in Vietnam and his graduation from the FBI academy. She said that Cain has given speeches all over the country about drug-related issues with an emphasis on meth.

Cain began his hour-long enthusiastic talk to the students by telling them they would be presented with facts and not scare tactics.

Cain described meth as being the most dangerous drug the country has faced. Instead of being imported like cocaine or heroin, meth has become a "home drug," so efforts to stop the drug at the borders, which have been done to combat drug use in the past, will have no effect on the meth epidemic, he said. Cain explained that meth has become a home drug because it is relatively easy to make and the materials for making it until recently have been readily available.

In opposition to what he believed is pessimism by many of his fellow officers, Cain expressed that he thinks the war on meth can be won, but it can't be done by law enforcement alone.

"We can't lock enough people up to stop it," Cain said. "We have to have community engagement."

He said that law enforcement has been there to serve the community, but told the students that now they "need your help."

Cain called meth the most dangerous drug out there, not just for its availability, its detrimental effects on the body or its promotion of violent behavior, but also for the extremely volatile and dangerous way it is made.

"Meth may be very easy to make, but it's also very volatile, very toxic, very explosive and very deadly," Cain said.

He cited as an example the rate of meth lab explosions in his home county of Daviess during the period of 2005-06 when meth use was at its peak and a meth lab related explosion occurred at least once every month in his community.

Cain explained that cooking meth is a 10-step procedure and that six of those steps involve extremely volatile chemicals that can explode or give off lethal toxic fumes.

"That means you have a 60 percent chance of hurting yourself or someone else (when making meth)," Cain said.

Cain said that even abandoned meth labs can still prove to be extremely dangerous. He told the story of a woman and her two young children in his county who came upon an abandoned cellar during one of their walks through the country. The children wanted to explore the cellar, but the mother noticed an odd smell in the air and called the police to come investigate immediately. It turned out that cellar was home to an abandoned meth lab and the smell was hydrogen chloride gas, a potentially lethal gas created from the mixing of Drano and salt. If those children had entered the cellar, they would have been dead within minutes, Cain said.

Cain asked the students what they thought was the number one reason for doing drugs. One student offered peer pressure as the reason and while Cain did acknowledge that peer pressure was a big part, he said it wasn't number one.

After administering surveys to 300 drug users who came through the Daviess County Sheriff Department, Cain said the number one reason given as to why they started doing drugs was "to get high."

"They did it to feel good, and let me tell you that methamphetamine will give you a high second to none," Cain said.

"It can make you feel powerful … strong … better than you ever felt in your life," Cain said, but added that this high comes with a high cost.

He explained that meth has the ability to become addictive with the first try, and that many people feel they are in control when they're on meth, but it's really the "meth that controls you."

Cain said he has seen meth destroy lives, families, careers and futures due to the users' all-consuming addiction.

Cain then explained the four methods of ingesting meth, which are by inhalation or snorting, intravenously with a needle, eaten or dissolved in a liquid and, finally, smoking.

The most popular delivery method is smoking, Cain said, which also happens to be the most dangerous. The result of smoking meth is a more intense and instantaneous high; however, the high doesn't last as long which creates a greater dependency and the crash after smoking is far more debilitating than any other method of ingesting.

The high meth causes is actually the release of large amounts of a chemical in the brain known as dopamine. While dopamine can cause feelings of euphoria in small doses, too much of it is toxic to the brain and increased exposure to large amounts of dopamine can cause irreversible brain damage, Cain said.

The reason meth users feel "in total control" is the drug's ability to focus attention and heighten senses to an astonishing level. This feeling, coupled with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, causes insomnia among many users who will literally stay awake for days before their body gives out and crashes.

Meth is also an effective appetite suppressant. Cain used the case of a 13-year-old girl who had run away from home. When the sheriff's department found her, she "looked anorexic," he said. It turned out that the girl had become addicted to meth and as a result did not feel the need to eat.

The highs associated with meth are coupled with extreme lows that can lead to clinical depression in users, which, in turn, can lead to suicide, Cain said. He used the example of three young people from his county who recently committed suicide from depression related to meth use.

Other ill effects of meth are loss of vision and tooth decay due to the lack of saliva produced while on meth, Cain said.

Cain attributes the increase in violent crime in his county in recent years to the number of meth users. Meth can cause extremely violent mood swings that can cause the person to act more irrational than they would off the drug.

At the end of his talk, Cain reiterated the role of the community in helping to stop the meth epidemic and urged students to avoid the drug at all costs.

After his speech, Cain said that he felt they were very productive in combating meth back home in his county, saying that have reduced the level of meth production by 67 percent in the past two years. He credited this positive momentum with large community involvement and education for the community as to what to look for when spotting a meth lab and legislation that has moved cold remedies with pseudoephedrine behind the counters of pharmacies. He also praised drug companies for switching to other decongestants like phenylephrine.

Cain also said it has been the cooperation between law enforcement entities that has also lead to the crackdown on meth. Due to the common problem of meth, state and local police departments working together with sheriff's departments can more effectively combat meth. As a result, law enforcement as a whole is more effective in dealing with other crimes now than they have in the past due to the level of cooperation, he said.

In the end, Cain remained optimistic in the ability to win the war against meth, but expressed that his "greatest fear is what we don't know," alluding to the long-term effects of exposure to meth labs or sites where meth labs have been at one time.

Following his talk at the high school, Cain gave his lecture to law enforcement officers that afternoon and Crawford County parents that evening.

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