Meth use and manufacturing is just as much of a problem in East Hamilton County as it is on the north end of the county, downtown and in other local areas, according to the Hamilton County Sherriff's Office.
At a recent town hall meeting in Apison, Sgt. Mark Yeargan and Detective Monte Manka helped residents understand what kind of warning signs to look for regarding Tennessee's third most prevalent drug.
"Most property crimes are tied back to narcotics issues," said Yeargan. "I've never known anyone to break into a house to feed their kids. It's usually to fuel their narcotics habit."
An increase in property crime or a sudden rash of burglaries is often a telltale sign of a meth or another narcotic addiction in a neighborhood, both officials agreed.
"If you have a relative involved in this, they're going to steal from you," said Manka. "They don't care. They steal from their relatives, neighbors and friends; anything to make meth."
As meth laws have become stricter and more ingredients necessary for making meth are being monitored by stores and the government, Yeargan and Manka explained that methods of making meth have evolved. As a result, a seemingly harmless Powerade bottle could blow up in an unknowing citizen's hand.
Portable meth labs, called shake and bake labs, are often comprised of utensils like Powerade bottles, in which someone "cooks" meth by combining the volatile ingredients and shaking the bottle while driving around, they said. These items are often discarded on the side of the road after the manufacturer has extracted the drug and are then sometimes picked up by the Sheriff's Office or unknowing citizens.
"Oftentimes people don't always know that they're looking at a meth lab or a part of a meth lab," said Manka.
Originally, he said, the residue in shake and bake labs was brown, but now it's clear or sometimes pink and constantly changing.
The components of shake and bake meth labs are often discarded in a backpack or plastic tote and are sometimes accompanied by needles, the detective said. Manka and Yeargan urge citizens to call the Sheriff's Office if they find anything they suspect falls into this category.
According to them, the traditional meth lab houses where large quantities of the drug are manufactured in one place are becoming less common but still remain a threat in the county. It is often hard to detect any odor with a small shake and bake lab, but with larger labs in homes there is often a caustic chemical smell, said Manka.
"Meth, to me, has a real strong chemical, caustic, irritating smell to it because of all the fumes coming off these household chemicals," he said.
Meth is made solely from manmade chemicals that are often flammable, highly reactive with one another and often dangerous, said the detective. The high that is produced from the chemical combination that results in meth lasts from eight to 10 hours and can never be felt as intensely as the first time a person does the drug, which is why people get addicted so easily, he said.
A meth user is fidgety, stays awake for long hours, looks like they are tired, may pick at their skin and has likely experienced weight loss since using the drug, Manka said. Facial sores and bad teeth are no longer common ways of detecting a meth user, he added.
The sergeant and detective encourage local residents to be suspicious of anyone who buys large quantities of cold medicines containing ephedrine and ice packs, as those are often main ingredients in the manufacturing of meth.
Anyone interested in hosting an informational meeting regarding meth or who is looking for more information can contact the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office at 209-7000.