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Local mothers battle rise of methamphetamine use in Southern Crescent

By Kathy Jefcoats

Methamphetamine is easy to make, the ingredients are readily and legally available and the profit margin on sales is lucrative, which explains why meth continues to be the illegal drug of choice in Henry and Clayton counties.

But a Rex mother and grandmother wonders if users know what they are putting in their bodies when they snort, inject, smoke or swallow the stuff.

"I'm convinced that half the people who take it don't know what's in it," said Marilyn Stephens. "If they do know what's in it, they don't know what it does to their brains. It eats holes in your brain."

Stephens said she put that question to a former meth user whose husband operated a lab to make the drug.

"She told me she knew what was in it but didn't care," Stephens said. "I just couldn't believe it. They make meth with Red Devil lye. If you put lye on your hand, it will eat a hole in it. What do they think it does to their insides?"

Watching several family members lose themselves to the drug prompted Stephens, 56, to organize a chapter of Mothers Against Methamphetamines or MAMA, in the Henry-Clayton counties area.

"It is for anyone who wants to join," she said. "There are a lot of people really interested in this. They're out there and they have mothers and sisters. I believe by the grace of God, you can overcome anything but you have to ask."

Last year, local, state and federal narcotics agents took down almost 300 meth labs in Georgia. The U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized 88 kilograms of the drug in 2003. In Henry County, police Lt. Ken Turner said 80 percent of the narcotic trafficking cases involved methamphetamine during 2000-2002.

"I doubt it's less now than it was then," he said. "It's common in this area of the country because it is cheaply made and there is a huge profit margin. It can also be done very inexpensively."

The ingredients can be easily purchased – lye, pseudoephedrine, lithium batteries, peroxide, acetone, cooking fuel, engine starter, idodine and matchbooks, among others. Recipes to make it can be found on the Internet. The fact that the process of cooking meth is dangerous and has proven deadly when labs have exploded doesn't seem to deter manufacturers.

"You have to be careful when you're dealing with a lab," said Turner, "because of its caustic and toxic nature. During one stage, it produces fumes similar to mustard gas. You only get to smell mustard gas once in a lifetime. It's very dangerous."

Georgia lawmakers outlawed the public's availability of ephedrine and have limited its availability to buy large quantities of pseudoephedrine, found in over the counter cold medicines. Ephedrine is extracted from pseudoephedrine and shares molecules found in methamphetamine.

Legislators from Canada to Florida, California to New York are working to keep the common cold medicines out of the hands of manufacturers but Turner said when dealers can't buy it, they simply steal it.

Turner said he remembers a guy from Florida who mapped out all the pharmacies along Interstate 75 from the state line to the Carolinas, listing all the addresses and directions in a notebook.

"He got in his car and stopped at each one," he said. "He'd steal the pills off the shelves, shove them in the trunk and take off to the next pharmacy. He wouldn't get one or two, he'd get it all. He had hundreds of thousands of pills."

Turner said the man was just one part of an elaborate plan to make meth.

"His contribution was the pills," he said. "Others got the batteries, others got the rest of the stuff they needed."

Clayton Police Capt. Jeff Turner said drug agents rely on street officers and the public to help find these labs.

"We attack this problem like any other illegal narcotics on the street," he said. "Officers who go on calls look for signs that indicate meth labs are in use and we take appropriate action. And we always seek help from the public to contact us anonymously."

While meth labs are a danger to operators and their neighbors, Jeff Turner said more and more are found in homes with children.

"The sad part is when they run labs with children in the house," he said, "and the kids burn up. There needs to be stronger laws to control people buying the ingredients they need to make methamphetamine."

Stephens will be conducting a presentation on MAMA at Gospel Outreach on East Atlanta Road in Stockbridge Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. For information on joining the local chapter, access the Web site at www.mamasite.net and click on "chapter listings" to find her contact information.