LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- Methamphetamine is one of the most common drugs in the area, after heroin, according to police.
In 2005, Congress passed the "Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act," which in part regulates the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in meth. But the new rules, requiring identification to purchase the cold tablets, didn't necessarily reduce the amount of the drug produced, but rather it changed the method of production.
"A lot of people are like oh there's not a meth problem here and I'm like oh you'll be surprised," said Brooke Clements, a recovering addict.
In fact Brooke, a recovering addict, says walking down the street she can usually spot at least one person she's used with.
And police say that's because the demand for methamphetamine in La Crosse isn't declining.
"We have a number of suppliers who bring methamphetamine in to our city and distribute it for large sums and it's very profitable," said Detective Sgt. Dan Kloss of the La Crosse Police Department.
Historically meth labs required a significant amount of space and equipment.
"People decided they needed to figure out a way to more efficiently make meth in a smaller environment," said Tom Johnson with the West Central MEG Unit, an area drug task force. "So they came up with this one pot or shake and bake method."
According to police a gram of meth costs between $100 and $120 in La Crosse. But making it in a bottle using the one pot method, generates between two to three grams for about $50. It's cheaper but even more dangerous.
"You have the exposure of burns to the person that's doing the cook," Johnson said. "Back in the days of the garage lab, if something went wrong with the cook, the person could basically run away from the situation. Here, the cook is actually holding the situation."
Despite the even greater risk, the one pot method means users don't need dealers so police say more people are trying it.
"We're seeing the demographic reduce a little bit," Johnson said. "The younger people are getting a chance to, 'hey try a hit of this.'"
Clements began making her own at just 19.
"I was surprised at how easy it is. I mean like, household items," she said.
No matter how meth is produced, the drug and the waste it creates are toxic. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, for each pound of methamphetamine produced, five to six pounds of hazardous waste is generated.
That waste poses serious risks not only to users but also responding officers.
"We always call the Department of Justice's specialized team. It's called the CLEAR Team. That's Clandestine Laboratory and Enforcement Response," Johnson said.
Sgt. Kloss is the only La Crosse officer who is on the CLEAR Team.
"We'll go in to the house, assess it with our safety equipment on, and make sure we can either dispose of that chemical and get that out, or call more assistance in," Sgt. Kloss said.
But the dangers extend beyond clean up. Meth can be instantly addicting, leaving users desperate to finance their habit.
"They'll do whatever it takes: breaking in to your car, breaking in to your house, any type of property you have that has any type of value," Sgt. Kloss said.
It's a problem the police department and drug task forces are constantly battling.
"I feel like we are making a dent within the meth business in the city," Sgt. Kloss said. "It's hard to tell though on a given basis- when we take off a large dealer, or someone of significance in the city, within a week or two, someone has taken that spot and that supply and demand."
Police say part of the solution is public cooperation. Anyone who seems unusual traffic or something suspicious at a home is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.
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