Officials say meth arrests declining

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Behind marijuana, methamphetamine remains the second drug of choice for users in Clovis and Curry County, according to officials.

And the destructive nature of the drug poses a community concern because it feeds crime rates and causes health and family deterioration, they say.

Although meth production is down, meth-related use and crimes are a continuing problem statewide, according to New Mexico Drug Czar Herman Silva.

Arrests directly related to meth possession, manufacturing and distribution within the city of Clovis have dipped 65 percent as of the end of May compared to the same period in 2005, according to figures provided by the Clovis Police Department. There were 121 meth-related arrests by the department in 2005; this year there have been 28 in the first five months.

Arrest statistics do not always accurately reflect drug usage though, according to Lt. Jim Schoeffel, public information officer for Clovis police.
“Just because you don’t see the numbers doesn’t mean the problem is not there,” he said. “Not everyone that uses drugs comes to our attention and I would venture to say a high number of people who use drugs do not come to our attention at all.

Long-term users — it affects all aspects of their lives and a lot of times that’s how we come across them,” Schoeffel said, explaining drug use often surfaces in issues ranging from traffic stops to domestic violence, child abuse, financial crisis and violent crimes.

Clovis police have been focusing on street enforcement in an effort to curb the presence of meth in the community, he said.
There has been one meth lab bust in 2006 in Curry County. It is one of 40 thus far in the state, Silva said.

Sheriff Roger Hatcher credits a stronger push to eradicate meth in the county as a factor in reduced numbers.

“We’ve just got our narcotics officer out there hammering it,” Hatcher said. “They’re not making it here but they’re importing it.
“We haven’t cured (meth) by any means, but we’re cutting down on the labs.”

Cheaper meth with high purity levels coming from Mexico and the West Coast have continued to affect supply and demand balances, Silva said.
The crackdown on meth production has been effective but must be part of a holistic approach as counties continue to see meth use and addiction related issues surface, Silva said.

A multi-faceted approach including interdiction and prevention, drug enforcement, treatment and reintegration of users into society is necessary, Silva said.

“If we don’t do all of them, you’re not going to combat the problem. You can’t do one without the other — you have to get (addicts) in early treatment. The longer they stay on it the worse they get,” he said.

It’s difficult to figure out how many people are using drugs and what types, Silva said. To get a feel for the issue, officials look at indicators such as arrest data, child protective services cases and drug treatment to try and paint a picture.

Silva said Curry County lies in an area of New Mexico considered highest for meth problems. The southeast quadrant of the state — counties such as Curry, Eddy, Lea and Chaves remain a hot-bed for meth.

One example — this year in Curry County, Silva said Children, Youth and Families has taken custody of 55 children due to meth-related issues.

Tony Bustos, program director for Teambuilders, said in the last year his agency created two programs specifically for drug users coming out of the corrections system. Under contract through Adult Corrections and Federal Probation, they work with offenders who are reintegrating, Bustos said.

Of around 30 clients attending the drug groups, approximately 80 percent are battling meth addictions, according to Bustos.

“Meth is still the highest reported by clients,” Bustos said, adding marijuana use is also prevalent because of accessibility.

Silva referred to the Meth Watch program initiated by 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler that restricts and monitors the sale of pseudoephedrine products used in the production of meth as a contributor to reduced manufacturing statistics.

“What’s done at the local level helps effect state level change. Curry County was the first county in the state (to introduce) Meth Watch, which has become a national program since then. You guys have done a lot and taken an aggressive stance in your community,” he said.