Published Monday, March 13, 2000
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                  Police worried how drug will impact crime

                                    By ROBERT F. MOORE

                  Because it is cheap, easy to make and spreading fast across the
                  country, methamphetamine could be Charlotte-Mecklenburg's next
                  crack cocaine, law enforcement officials say.

                  So far, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have reported only a handful of
                  arrests for methamphetamine possession or trafficking. But police say
                  the drug's popularity is increasing and could have a significant impact
                  on crime, especially thefts and assaults.

                  Law enforcement officials say signs of the drug's presence in the region
                  are growing. Seizures are up dramatically, laboratories are springing up
                  in rural areas and police are stepping up training to fight increased

                  "Our intelligence is telling us that there is quite a bit of it here," said
                  Capt. David Grose, who supervises the department's vice and narcotics

                  Often referred to as meth, crank, ice, crystal or speed,
                  methamphetamine and a derivative of the drug, called Ecstasy, are
                  becoming increasingly popular among teen-agers and young adults,
                  area substance abuse experts say. The most recent drug-abuse survey
                  conducted by the Charlotte-based Substance Abuse Prevention
                  Services showed that about 10percent of local high-school seniors
                  among 347 surveyed had used the drug.

                  Methamphetamine is most widely used and manufactured in the West
                  and Midwest, but Drug Enforcement Administration officials say its
                  popularity is moving eastward. They call methamphetamine the
                  fastest-growing drug threat in the country.

                  A Charlotte-based task force, made up of DEA agents and police
                  investigators from the state and region, seized more than 6kilograms, or
                  more than 13.2pounds, of methamphetamine in the Charlotte area last
                  year. The seizures had a street value of more than $8million.

                  Seizures in Charlotte, Asheville and the N.C. mountains were 10times
                  higher last year than in 1997, according to the DEA.

                  Users say methamphetamine produces a cheaper, more intense high
                  than cocaine, sometimes lasting 12 or more hours from a single use.
                  Smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally, methamphetamine stimulates
                  the central nervous system, creating a sense of increased energy and

                  The drug's use can result in outbursts of violence - or in some cases,
                  death. Its manufacture can cause explosions. Most often, the drug is
                  made in sophisticated labs, using legally accessible products, such as
                  cold tablets, fertilizer and ether. Area police say merchants have
                  cooperated with authorities by reporting large purchases of ephedrine,
                  a key ingredient. But they say it's difficult to detect smaller purchases of
                  the legal precursor ingredients.

                  A 1995 National Institute of Justice study noted that in 23 participating
                  cities across the country, about 10percent of men and 11percent of
                  women arrested for violent offenses tested positive for
                  methamphetamine. The testing program is expected to begin in
                  Mecklenburg County next year.

                  In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where crack cocaine remains the most
                  common drug used by those arrested, police have begun preparing for
                  the influx of methamphetamine. They are distributing CD-ROMs that
                  instruct officers in recognizing users' behavior patterns. Key supervisors
                  have received training from federal authorities.

                  And last month, a nationally recognized methamphetamine expert
                  conducted a two-day training session in Charlotte. About 50 police,
                  mostly SWAT or community crimes officers, learned how
                  methamphetamine is made, symptoms of users, how to safely dismantle
                  the labs and key indicators that a lab is operating.

                  Maj. Bill Berry of the Albany (Ga.) Police Department's drug unit, who
                  taught the two-day "meth school," said the most common response from
                  officers was, "I didn't know that."

                  "Methamphetamine use has been spreading from the West, and has a
                  pretty strong user base in Tennessee. It's been moving toward North
                  Carolina," Berry said. "In many cities, it has replaced crack cocaine as
                  the drug of choice. You have to applaud authorities here for trying to
                  get ahead of this thing."

                  Most meth labs are in rural areas where police are few and detection
                  less likely, Berry said. Professional chemists or amateurs with
                  methamphetamine recipes often produce hundreds of thousands of
                  dollars worth of the drug in a few days, he said.

                  According to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, authorities have
                  shut down 12 clandestine labs this year, twice the number from all of
                  last year. Two of those - one in January and the other last month - were
                  in rural areas of Rowan County.

                  On Feb.10, Rowan deputies served a search warrant on two men at a
                  Gold Hill mobile home. Inside they found guns, explosives and materials
                  for the making of methamphetamine.

                  Deputies arrested William Douglas Barringer Jr., 29, of Gold Hill and
                  Michael Alex Hall, 46, of Polkton, charging each with methamphetamine
                  trafficking and conspiracy to manufacture the drug. They are jailed in
                  Salisbury, each held on $200,000 bond.

                  Since meth labs are highly volatile - many have exploded - deputies
                  cordoned off the area and called the DEA, SBI and area hazardous
                  material teams. It took about eighthours to safely dismantle the lab.

                  In smaller quantities, especially for personal use, the drug can be made
                  in less sophisticated settings, often referred to as "mom and pop" or
                  "box" labs. Some meth labs are portable and can be disassembled
                  within minutes.

                  And when it's not manufactured locally, methamphetamine is smuggled
                  into the Charlotte area much like other drugs, according to John Boone,
                  special agent in charge of the Charlotte office of the DEA.

                  "They'll use U.S. mail or FedEx. It doesn't matter," Boone said. "If it's got
                  wheels or wings, then they'll use it." Boone said smugglers use trucks to
                  bring the drug from as far away as California. Commercial drivers are
                  often paid to smuggle the drugs, he said. Mexican groups have the
                  strongest influence on its distribution, replacing motorcycle gangs of the
                  late '70s and early '80s.

                  Methamphetamine is generally sold in select circles and rarely
                  purchased at the street level, Boone said. It is generally used by people
                  between the ages of 18 and 25, Boone said. Traffickers, however, are
                  generally between 40 and 50, he said.

                  Linda Finkle, of the Substance Abuse Prevention Services, said use of
                  Ecstasy or MDMA, is increasing among older teen-agers.

                  "It's all over the 18-and-over clubs," Finkle said. "Some are using it as a
                  sex enhancer."

                  So far, Charlotte-Mecklenburg treatment centers are reporting few
                  patients with methamphetamine addictions. But a few hours west of
                  Charlotte, several areas have seen an increase in methamphetamine
                  seizures as well as a rise in the number of clients at treatment centers
                  who are addicted to the drug.

                  "Fiveyears ago, we might get one case per year," said Paul Martin,
                  director of the Sisters of Mercy Addiction Recovery Program in
                  Asheville. "Now 10 to 20percent of our clients have some level of
                  methamphetamine addiction."

                  Martin also supervises a detoxification unit at the Blue Ridge Community
                  Mental Health Center, one of about a dozen such units in the state.
                  About 5percent of the 1,000 or so clients admitted for detox there are
                  methamphetamine abusers, he said.

                  Craig White, director of the Robert S. Swain Recovery Center in Black
                  Mountain, has a personal stake in helping methamphetamine addicts.
                  His own addiction almost 20years ago caused him to lose about
                  50pounds and flunk out of college.

                  "The low point for me was not the drug use, it was the empty space
                  inside of me," said White, 38. "I knew I had hit rock bottom when I got as
                  high as I could get and I still felt empty inside. The drugs stopped
                  working as a coping mechanism. I was dying."

                  White, then 22, checked himself into a drug-treatment center for his
                  addiction to alcohol and methamphetamine. "That experience led me to
                  this job," he said.

                  Reach Robert F. Moore at (704)358-5934 or