The Meth Mess: Laws, logs try to slow drug's expansion

Posted: Jan. 17, 2014 4:00 pm Updated: Jan. 26, 2015 1:56 pm
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Adams County Circuit Court Judge Scott Walden couldn’t guess what percentage of his daily court docket is made up of methamphetamine cases, but he admits, “It’s a significant portion of what we’re dealing with today.”

Illinois has severely stiffened its meth laws since Walden joined the bench in 1996. All meth-related charges are felonies. The most serious meth charges are on the same Class X level as violent crimes, meaning that people found guilty of those charges face between six and 30 years in prison.

Illinois lawmakers have tried to make it more difficult for meth users to get the products needed to make the drug. The state passed the Methamphetamine Control and Community Act on Sept. 11, 2005. That act created a new offense called aggravated unlawful meth manufacturing, a Class X felony that calls for mandatory prison time. If meth is manufactured where children live, in a multiunit dwelling like an apartment complex or hotel, or if it is manufactured where the elderly or disabled live, then the offense is classified as aggravated.

The state also adopted stricter purchasing guidelines for pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in meth. A person can’t buy more than 7,500 milligrams in a 30-day period. Authorities say the most common size pill boxes contain 2,880 milligrams.

Have the measures worked?

“If you would look at our numbers, you’d say no,” said Illinois State Police Master Sgt. David Roll, a member of the Meth Response Team based in Quincy.

Meth appears to be used now more than ever before in Adams County, but law enforcement officials have more ways to track who is using the homemade compound.

When anyone buys pseudoephedrine pills, he or she must show ID and sign for the pills. That data is then entered into the National Precursor Log Exchange. The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators provides the purchase log at no cost to states that legislate pseudoephedrine sales. The recording is done in real time, meaning that seconds after the drug is bought, authorities can see who has bought pills.

“It makes it a little easier for us,” Roll said of the national exchange logs. “Now we have that available at our fingertips instead of having to manually go through a pill log like they had in the past. You can get someone’s history and see who is on the logs, where have they been buying and how much have they been buying. Oftentimes, you can get correlations on who is working together. You can see Subject A buying five minutes before Subject B at the same store. You know they are connected.”

Meth cases have helped swell the case files in the Adams County State’s Attorney’s Office. There were 809 felony cases filed in Adams County in 2012, the second year that at least 800 felonies had been charged in the county.

Those totals are a far cry from when Jon Barnard took charge of the State’s Attorney’s Office in 2004, when fewer than 600 felony charges were filed. Because of meth, that load has steadily grown through the years.

“We set a record (for felony cases in 2012),” Barnard said. “In the category of good news, a lot of that is explained by more effective and more aggressive prosecution and law enforcement efforts. The bad news is that meth accounts for somewhere between a third and 40 percent of felony cases we handle. If you take that number away, it tells you how enormous a problem this has become.”

Barnard knows that in spite of any laws or pill logs, the problem is going to persist.

“(The national exchange log) is a very effective tool for law enforcement to help us track these people,” Barnard said. “For me to tell you that it has stopped or significantly retarded the efforts of meth cooks would be a gross overstatement. What we have now seen is this resurgence.”

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