The Indiana State Police has a special message for civic-minded hunters tempted to clean up the woods:
Indiana has more than 250,000 hunters, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. In northeast Indiana, Steuben and Noble counties usually rank within the top five counties in the state for annual deer kill, Indiana conservation officer Rodney Clear said.
But Noble County has another, less laudatory distinction. As of late October, police had seized 62 methamphetamine labs in the county, making it the year’s leader statewide.
Meth “cooks” are craftier and more mobile these days when it comes to producing the highly addictive stimulant. Makeshift laboratories have been condensed to a “one-pot method” so that meth can be produced in a single container – often a soda bottle or small gas can.
A container used to cook meth may look harmless, but it could contain toxic chemicals or even explode. That has area law enforcement worried about what hunters might find in the woods, especially in Indiana’s northeastern counties.
Indiana’s deer-hunting season runs through Jan. 4, and other birds and animals are hunted throughout the year. The state’s northeastern counties are popular for all kinds of hunting, Clear said.
High numbers of meth labs found by police can indicate many things – increased enforcement, greater awareness by the public – or simply that there is more of the drug being made in the area, Clear said.
That’s what has Indiana State Police Trooper Rob Smith worried.
Smith spends his days – and often nights – tracking meth-related crimes and cleaning up after the drug as part of the state’s Meth Suppression Section and Clandestine Lab Team. Wednesday found him taking a quick breather at the Indiana State Police post in Fort Wayne, wearing a fleece sweat shirt and a tired expression.
Meth production used to be a complicated endeavor that required the highly toxic farming fertilizer anhydrous ammonia, which usually had to be stolen.
But in April, Smith noticed a change: More cooks began using the one-pot method, which produces less of the drug but doesn’t create as many noxious fumes or require anhydrous ammonia.
While it’s easier to produce, the method still takes the police the same amount of time to clean up. What’s more, it still leaves volatile chemicals behind, which is why police continue to treat one-pot production the same way they would treat a traditional, larger meth lab.
He compares it to a bottle or can of soda dropped on the ground: If the bottle isn’t slowly vented, it can explode, he said.
Not only has the method led to an increase in production in urban areas – Fort Wayne police have assembled a special team to address the issue – but it makes it easier for cooks to throw their garbage in the woods or on the side of the road. Police recently arrested a man who had a one-pot lab in his backpack, Smith said.
Hunters finding meth refuse is nothing new, but Smith is concerned there may be more this year than in the past.
“The one-pot method basically came into play and took over,” Smith said.
Noble County had 34 lab seizures last year, compared with 24 the year before. So the 62 labs this year – which includes both the traditional manufacture using anhydrous ammonia and the one-pot method – is a departure from several years of falling totals.
Nearby counties, too, are posting totals that place them in the state’s top 20. Recently, the state police cleaned up five labs in northeast Indiana in the span of a day, Smith said.
In LaGrange County, 38 labs had been seized through Oct. 24. Twenty-one were found in DeKalb, 18 in Steuben, 17 in Kosciusko and 14 in Allen, according to the state police.
Police began making inroads in the meth battle a few years ago when a key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, was placed behind pharmacy counters.
The drug can be sold only in limited quantities and anyone buying the drug, a common cold medicine, must sign a log with their name and address.
But the state has yet to get a program up and running that would put the logs in a database accessible statewide. Officers must check the logs at individual pharmacies and look for frequent buyers.