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Opinion — Its okay to outgrow your college friends
Opinion — It's okay to outgrow your college friends
Megan PoeApril 12, 2024

Meth on the rise-Number of meth lab busts in the Upper Peninsula under police radar

The last several years have shown an increase in meth-lab busts in Marquette County, indicating the production of methamphetamine as a growing trend. While there is no clear geographic nexus of production, Marquette County is unique in its affect for meth.

“We have been hit harder in Marquette than surrounding counties,” County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said. “Likewise, if you inquire in Menominee or over in Gogebic County, you may find that they have a similar issue with heroin.”

Lieutenant Tim Schollander of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) concurs.

“We have had an increase in meth labs over the last two years,” Schollander said. “The majority of meth labs we see in the U.P. are in Marquette County.”

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Schollander shared statistics on the frequency of meth lab busts over the last several years. One trend is clear: meth production in the U.P. is expanding.

In 2010, UPSET responded to seven meth labs in the U.P. In 2011, they were three times as busy with 21 busts. That number doubled in 2012 with 42 busts. Last year, the numbers increased to 51. And there have already been five in 2014, with three in Marquette County and two in Alger County.

“We’ve had over 50 meth cases each year, over the last two years,” Wiese said. Streamlined production methods are partly to blame.

“It really took off with the advent of the one-pot cook method,” Marquette Police Captain Gordon Worchock said, “that has really accelerated its use up here.”

The “one-pot” or ‘shake-and-bake’ method is meant to expedite the process of meth production. Rather than having multiple containers used for meth’s chemistry, the one-pot method consolidates production and therefore minimizes evidence. It also makes meth production nomadic, an invaluable asset to a highly probed black-market.

Despite the one-pot method holding appeal for producers (who are often using their own product), meth production is still a multi-person process. According to Schollander, there is often an individual who buys the components of production, including Sudafed or lithium batteries. This person is typically different from the producer, who knows the kitchen-chemistry involved.

Schollander sees a connection between multiple people manufacturing for one lab and meth use spreading like wildfire.

“With meth, once you have one person who knows how to cook it,” Schollander said, “they typically have people around watching them cook [meth] and trying to replicate it down the road.”

Part of protocol in preventing meth distribution is to monitor sales of Sudafed and other over-the-counter decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, part of the amphetamine chemical class.

“We did a round-up of people buying more Sudafed than allowed in a month,” US Prosecuting Attorney Martin Vermont said. “Most of those people were associated with meth production.”

Vermont has been involved in multiple prosecutions involving the production of five grams of meth or more. Five grams results in a five-year minimum prison sentence.

“We have done some federal meth prosecutions,” Vermont said. “For a few years we weren’t getting any cases, then the switch to the one-pot method happened about three years ago. If we find that the weights are substantial, that the amount of meth production is substantial, that’s when we [the federal government] get involved.”

County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese notes that misconceptions around what constitutes a meth lab are rampant.

“It’s certainly not Breaking Bad,” Wiese said. “It’s not people in a laboratory making it. It’s usually made in a Gatorade bottle.”

While the one-pot method is efficient, it is much more volatile than other processes, increasing the risk of a breach, or explosion and harm to producers and parties near the location of production.

“At least 10 percent of the time [a breach] can happen, if not more,” Wiese said. A breach can be triggered by simply opening the container too soon.

At the moment, NMU is not viewed as a factor in the preponderance of meth in Marquette County.

“I don’t believe there’s been a connection between the university and meth use in Marquette,” Worchock said. “I can’t say it won’t seep into university live. That could happen in the future.”

“It’s atypical to have a college student involved,” Wiese said, noting that functioning in society is nearly impossible with meth addiction. Unlike other narcotics, meth addiction can develop after one try.

For the future of prevention and prosecution, different fronts are being considered.

“There are some laws being presented by Rep. Kivela to cut down” on Sudafed being purchased, Wiese said.

Schollander sees education as part of the battle.

“I’ve tried to increase the education portion,” Schollander said. “Get police, firefighters, and first responders up-to-speed on the signs of meth. What I’d like to see in Marquette is a larger ad campaign.”

Meth production is a Class B crime in Michigan, warranting up to 20 years in prison.

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