Methamphetamine, described by a federal Drug Enforcement Agency
spokesman as the No. 1 drug threat in rural America, has a
public price beyond money.
"The scary part about methamphetamine is not
only the addiction it causes but the devastation that is left"
to people and the environment, DEA spokesman Will Glaspy said.
Fires, deaths, orphaned children, hazardous
material cleanups at clandestine meth labs - these are some of
Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess said he
knows at least nine meth addicts who have died this year in his
county along the Cumberland Plateau between Knoxville and
"They have died of heart attacks and kidney
failure and things like that, but they are in their 30s and they
shouldn't be dying. They stay up and going so long it just wears
them out," he said.
About 85 miles south in Athens, a meth lab
explosion in April in the bathroom of a home killed a
48-year-old man and injured at least three other people,
including two children.
Neighbors saw a man on fire running from the
house. A 15-month-old girl suffered chemicals burns on her feet
and an older child had burns on her back and head.
In Franklin County along the Alabama border, a
family became sick after renting home that had previously been
used as a meth lab, said Diane Easterly, a Tennessee Department
of Children's Services regional team coordinator in Chattanooga.
"They started to have respiratory problems," she
Law officers say an increasing number of meth
cookers are coming out of their country kitchens, firing up
"labs" in motel rooms and urban apartments with recipes of drain
cleaner, iodine and red phosphorous.
"If somebody is cooking beside you in a motel
room beside you can die from phosphene gas," said Ben Graves, a
McMinn County detective who raided a meth lab in an Interstate
75 motel in late January. Five people were arrested.
Investigators in East Ridge, a Chattanooga
suburb, seized meth-making chemicals from an interstate motel in
The "chemical smells are so overpowering, if you
come in behind it you can be contaminated by the phosphorous,"
Records show the DEA seized more than 7,000 meth
labs last year, including 387 in Tennessee, up from 177 in 2000
and 2 in 1996. Those numbers are likely only part of the totals,
Glaspy said, since some agencies don't report to the DEA.
The cleanup cost for a lab: about $5,000.
"It's moving into the cities because of the
nature of the drug being so addictive," Graves said.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tennessee, said last
month that a regional methamphetamine task force was being
expanded to reach through all of East Tennessee, while getting
another $1 million grant.
He said meth first became a law enforcement
problem in Tennessee in Grundy and Franklin counties in the late
1990s but now "meth labs are showing up in urban areas in East
Nationally, most of the labs are in California
but "methamphetamine has been moving from the West Coast to the
East Coast like a tidal wave. It is the number one drug threat
in rural America right now," Glaspy said.
The drug is popular with the "white working
class," he said.
"Their buddies introduce it to them because they
can work so much overtime and then they are on meth and not