The remains of a suspected methamphetamine lab have been recovered in the parking lot of the Storm Lake Access and Marina, raising fresh concerns about the drug in the area.
"Our guys are out there hitting the back roads every night looking for this, but it's almost impossible to stop it completely," said Buena Vista County Sheriff Chuck Eddy. "The kind of labs being operated around here are very clandestine, very mobile - they can literally make the stuff while they are driving down the road, or they will run a small lab in a building somewhere and the next day be long gone to a new location. Then they just dump the remnants wherever. Not only do these people leave us with a drug problem, but with the dumping, we have an environmental problem now, too."
The suspected meth lab remnants at the marina were discovered November 20, and information on the case was released Monday.
A lab team from the Storm Lake Police Department completed clean-up on the site, and the materials collected have been sent to a crime lab for confirmation. No report has been received back, and the investigation will continue.
The drug was not made at the marina. Materials likely were dumped there from the trunk of a vehicle passing through.
"At this point, we have no suspects, and there isn't a lot we can do to move forward," Eddy said.
Eddy has no doubt that there are more meth labs operating in the area. It is not uncommon to see prisoners arriving at the jail on unrelated crimes who are suffering from meth addiction.
He said that he just received a report from the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, showing that 1,085 meth labs have been seized in Iowa in the past year, an increase from the previous year and a new record.
"The records show only two meth labs recovered in Buena Vista County prior to this one at the marina, but there have been more than probably haven't worked their way through the system to be reported to the state," Eddy said. "I'd say we're close to half a dozen."
"We are very concerned. Iowa has been bouncing around with Missouri and California to see who is going to be number one in meth lab seizures and crimes, and this is a pretty dubious distinction to have," Eddy said.
"It is hard to catch people who may be using meth. You really don't know unless they have been using for some time, and then there are the symptoms like paranoia, sores and all kinds of other medical issues. There are a lot of people in our area taking it, and I worry about that. Every report we hear back from someone who has been involved with meth is that after the first time, they are already addicted."
Perhaps even worse, incidents are being seen in Buena Vista County and across the state of children being impacted by parents' use of the drug.
"Over the last two years, the Iowa Department of Human Services has seen 821 children who have been victims of abuse in a home where the adults were using meth, and we have seen that happen right here," Eddy said. "There have also been 1,167 cases in which an illegal drug has been found in the system of a child - and that has tripled since 2002."
Iowa is currently leading the nation per capita in known meth lab incidents, according to the Department of Public Safety. Meth is relatively easy and inexpensive to make.
"In the past year, 352 pounds of meth have been seized in Iowa, and that's twice the previous record," Eddy said.
There is no typical addict, local officers find. "I don't think at this point that there is any age group distinction. It can be anywhere," Sheriff Eddy said.
While new state laws have attempted to limit access to some of the precursors used to make meth, Eddy feels that action has not gone far enough. The new law taking effect last summer has limited the amount of particular products often used in the making of meth, it does not yet include limits on popular cold medicine products that contain multiple elements including that same precursor.
"Many of the meth lab sites we are seeing now have utilized those products with multiple ingredients, and you can still walk into a store and buy all of that you want," the sheriff said. "The state is trying to address that situation, and I hope that they do."
Local officers have tried education in the schools. "Not everybody listens. It doesn't take much exposure to this drug to ruin your life, because it is so addictive and it draws you in so quickly," Eddy said. "It is a high priority for us, because it is so devastating."