By Madeline Sewell
Clinton County Chatter staff reporter
ST. JOHNS –– Over the course of history the human race has run though its fair share of popular drugs. One year opium is out of control, and the next it’s LSD.
This most recent drug of choice is meth. And it has found it’s way to Clinton County.
According to Clinton County Sheriff Wayne Kangas, “those drugs are on the upward. Over the last couple of years meth has had a dramatic increase.”
In one week alone in October, Kangas and his department were called out to clean up a dump site that contained seven-medium sized Gatorade bottles full of meth components, said Kangas.
According to Clinton County’s drug policy, this counts as seven separate meth labs, since each bottle can produce it’s own meth, said Kangas.
“They just kinda threw it on the side of the road,” said Kangas. “The bag was still smoking when the garbage company tried to pick it up.”
Said Michigan State Police Lt. Brian Bahlau: “A lot of times they’ll cook their meth and then they’ll dump their garbage on the side of the road.”
Kangas and his department are all part of the Tri-County Metro Narcotics Squad, which is run by the state police but include several agencies, said Kangas.
Bahlau is section leader for the Metro Squad.
“There is a ton of meth that we respond to, it’s just rampant everywhere,” said Bahlau.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “methamphetamine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked, or ingested orally.”
This addictive factor combined with the fact that meth is a relatively simple drug to make are the main reasons why meth usage has increased, said Bahlau.
“It’s unbelievable, especially Central and Southwest Michigan, the amount of meth labs busted per year,” said Bahlau.
“We have to be specially trained to separate [the meth], package it, transport it, put it into a special container, and then have a company come to dispose of it,” said Bahlau.
“It’s very time-consuming and expensive,” Bahlau said.
The Metro Squad has been sending undercover cops, from a variety of departments, into the field to help cut down on the drug trafficking, said Kangas.
“These undercover officers go out there and they work with a lot of low-level criminals but then they try to flip them to try and catch the actual drug dealers,” Kangas said.
Closer to home, St. Johns High School has been working hard to keep meth out of its hallways.
Assistant Principal Mark Horak said that information is key to keeping drugs out of the classroom.
“We have a few things that we’ve set up that’s become very helpful,” said Horak. “We’ve got an online reporting system and we also have the redwing hotline.”
“It’s a number we give to students and they can text information. It might be about drugs it might be about bullying or different things,” said Horak.
“It actually comes right to my phone,” said Horak.
Depending on the information provided Horak can text back for further details or contact the police.
“It’s through Google, so they scramble it which keeps it anonymous. But there is a way, if we felt someone was in danger, to go to the police to find out who sent it,” Horak said.
“We’ve had a lot of good information, a lot of good tips,” Horak said.
Like every system, it has it’s faults.
“We get some crazy stupid texts every once in a while but for the most part the kids are really good about using it appropriately,” Horak said.
Jarred Gergory, a former St. Johns High School student, said, “I think it was a great way to allow kids to feel safe in school … but a problem I had with it was that it was hard to believe that the information you texted to the hotline was anonymous because you used your cell phone.”
“Mostly it was used for minor things or people being stupid,” said Gergory.
Another step St. Johns High School has taken to decrease the number of drugs that come though the doors is a new drug policy.
“It used to be like most other schools: if they’re caught with drugs or are under the influence, they get a 10-day suspension and then they’re back,” said Horak.
“We switched it to a little bit more support,” Horak said.
Students now have a choice between a 45-day out of school suspension or a multiple-step option.
“No one has chosen the 45-day suspension yet,” said Horak.
“The multiple-step option is a five-day suspension from school, which can be reduced to three if they do community service while they’re out,” said Horak.
“They have to undergo a drug assessment with our school nurse, who works with the parents on that as well,” Horak said.
“Student’s will also be subjected to drug testing, randomly, for a period of one year,” Horak said.
According to Horak, if the student fails any of these requirements then they will be reverted back to option one: a 45-day out of school suspension.
“If they’re selling or distributing, even the first offense, that’s a recommended expulsion,” said Horak.
One way to keep kids out of trouble is to keep them educated.
“We’ve noticed that a lot of people are subjected to meth because they don’t know what it is,” said Bahlau.
“They’ll come up [to a dump site] and shake a bottle or something and breathe in the harmful gas and then they’re hooked,” said Bahlau.
The Drug Control Policy says, “long-term methamphetamine abuse can cause addiction, anxiety, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior.
“Additionally, psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions can occur. They psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after methamphetamine use has ceased,” said the Drug Control Policy.
It’s important to know how dangerous it is, said Bahlau.