This week I produced a feature on methamphetamine in Louisville. I got the idea from the story at a press conference earlier this year. The Mayor, Sergeant Stan Salyards and other officials unveiled the new anti-meth campaign. I wanted to know if the increased arrests they were making were really due to extra vigilance, or if more people were making meth. It turns out that while there aren’t any exact statistics, Dr. Vito and Dr. Suresh’s preliminary numbers show that labs are being busted faster than they are being built.
The subject of meth is getting more play in world of TV, with AMC’s critically-acclaimed series ‘Breaking Bad.’ The show follows Walter White, a chemistry teacher who starts manufacturing crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments. He’s joined by his former student, Jesse Pinkman, who sells the meth.
The show is good, and while it is set in America (Albuquerque), nothing like that is likely happening in Louisville. For one, Walter makes crystal meth in a very complicated mobile lab. According to Sergeant Salyards, the labs the LMPD finds are smaller, sometimes single-pot labs. These compact setups are still dangerous (lithium is combustible in moist air), but they produce a less pure, powdered version of meth. Also, Walter in Breaking Bad doesn’t use meth. Salyards says almost every lab busted was set up by a user who was making a personal supply.
I also interviewed a prosecutor for the story. None of her comments made it into the final product, but she offered insights into the meth community. She corroborated Salyard’s claim that local meth manufacturers make it for themselves, but she told me about Smurfs. Smurfs are meth users who help gather supplies for manufacturers in exchange for drugs. The Smurf system is particularly helpful in getting more pseudoephedrine for labs. Three people buying the legal limit of cold medicine from one pharmacy are less likely to be caught than one person buying the legal limit at three pharmacies.
In Breaking Bad, Walter and Jesse steal the chemicals they need for meth, rather than go to drug stores. But that’s fiction. There is crystal meth in Louisville, but it’s imported the same way crack, cocaine and heroin are. The people manufacturing those drugs are in other cities and countries, and are not often thought to be users of their own product, since their operations are for profits, not personal use.