Methamphetamine is known by the street names of speed, meth, crank, crystal, ice, fire, crypto and white cross.
It is a crystal-like powdered substance that sometimes comes in large rock-like chunks. When the powder flakes off the rock, the shards look like glass, which is another nickname for the drug.
Methamphetamine is usually white or slightly yellow, depending on the purity. The drug can be snorted, swallowed, injected or smoked. If smoked or injected, users report feelings of increased energy and motivation often coupled with a false sense of invincibility. If snorted or swallowed, the onset is not as extreme and not accompanied by an initial "rush."
The psychological symptoms of prolonged methamphetamine use can resemble those of schizophrenia and are characterized by paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive behavior patterns and delusions of parasites or insects on the skin. Users often become incredibly thin and may not sleep for days or even weeks straight.
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BYLINE:By MATT ERICKSON
Methamphetamine labs in the state have been on a sharp rise in recent years, and law enforcement officials have been focusing more and more of their energy in stopping them.
Methamphetamine is a mixture of amphetamines -- commonly called uppers -- with any number of other chemicals to create a new drug. It's growing in popularity because it is relatively easy to produce, easy to sell and is perhaps one of the most addictive narcotics being used.
The NET VI Drug Task Force reported that since May of 1999 law enforcement officials have shut down 14 methamphetamine labs in the Brainerd area.
While those numbers seem high, Frank Ball, Brainerd police chief and NET VI director, said methamphetamine labs aren't a problem only in the Brainerd area, it's just that law enforcement agencies have been focusing on stopping the drug.
"There are 22 drug task forces in Minnesota, and methamphetamine is a plague we're seeing," Ball said. "In Brainerd we see more meth arrests because we have been more aggressive."
An agent for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who asked not to be named, said that last year Minnesota took down 100 methamphetamine labs. This number will dramatically rise in the next couple of years, the agent said, as more methamphetamine producers move from the south and west into Minnesota.
"We're going to be doing (busts on) 400 labs a year," the agent said.
An agent for NET VI Drug Task Force, who asked not to be identified, said the proliferation of methamphetamine started in the western part of the country and made its way east. Its popularity is due to its low cost compared with other drugs -- cocaine dealers actually had to lower their prices in order to compete with methamphetamine -- and because it is a highly addictive drug, the agent said.
Methamphetamine is still expensive, the BCA agent said. One gram sells for about $100. A half-pound is worth about $20,000.
The BCA agent said that unlike the short-lived adrenaline rush and high of cocaine, methamphetamine users can feel the rush for about 30 minutes, and the high may last for 24 hours. And once these people start craving the adrenaline rush, it's often hard for them to quit the drug.
"They get into that state and they can't stop," the agent said. "It gets into their system and stays for days on end."
Brainerd seems to offer a desired location for meth producers at first, but law enforcement officials are trying to clamp down on them. Ball said labs are springing up in this area because of the need to remain hidden and near metropolitan areas.
"The rural, northern Minnesota culture dictates that we're kind of a mom and pop family environment," Ball said. "They (meth producers) think they can move here, be successful, and remain undetected."
There are many dangers associated with methamphetamine production, one being its wide use by kids. Often, Ball said, when kids take the drug they get a feeling of invulnerability. They do things they normally wouldn't do. "They are living dangerously," he said.
People are also being cheated by smart methamphetamine dealers, who often sell the drug with no actual amphetamine in it, meaning these kids are trying to get high on nothing more than junk.
Another danger of methamphetamine is the labs themselves. The chemicals used to create methamphetamine are explosive and the waste byproduct of the mixtures is volatile and creates an environmental mess.
Ball said the good news in the fight against the drug is that citizens are becoming involved in stopping methamphetamine labs in their neighborhoods. He figures about 80 percent of methamphetamine arrests come from tips from neighbors.
It's not unusual for people living near a methamphetamine lab to become suspicious, Ball said. The labs generate a lot of traffic with people looking to buy, and a lot of noise from people looking to party.
The important fight in battling methamphetamine is not with the users, it's with the dealers and manufacturers, the BCA agent said. These people pose the biggest threat to law enforcement officials, the agent said, because where there are drugs, there are a lot of weapons to protect them, and methamphetamine makers are very paranoid.
Lawmakers are also starting to pass legislation for more severe penalties on narcotic manufacturers. Now not only can they lose all their drug-making equipment, but they can also lose their homes, vehicles and their possessions.
"It's hitting them in the pocketbooks," Ball said. Current presumptive penalties for a convicted methamphetamine producer is about 84 months, and if the operation or volume is large enough federal charges can be added, but Ball thinks the penalties still need to be more severe.
"These drug dealers are decaying our youth," he said. "We want to get them out of our community."
On Monday: Meth users pay a heavy price for becoming addicted.
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