Like most farmers, you're probably itching for the snow to melt and the trees to bud. It signals that fieldwork is right around the corner and the winter break is over.
It's also a sign that we'll soon see anhydrous rigs rolling up and down the roads of rural America. That essential crop nutrient is also a deadly component of one of the biggest drug problems facing America — methamphetamine (meth).
Increasingly across rural America's landscape, meth is being produced and widely distributed. Anhydrous is a key ingredient in “cold” cooking meth.
Recently, I was on an airplane and sat next to a law enforcement officer from Kentucky who told me meth is the biggest drug problem he faces every single day. As he put it, “It's not just drug addicts looking for a quick buck and a fix, it's also become a problem with over-the-road truckers who pour it into their soda cans for a quick pick-me-up.”
Meth equipment was even recently found in a storage unit in my hometown of Brookings, SD.
Often, I hear and read stories about the explosion in the number of meth labs. You undoubtedly have, too. Sweeping the once peaceful rural countryside, drug agents say they're showing up more and more in isolated farmhouses, outbuildings and abandoned trailer houses. Michigan State Police estimate that 80% of its caseload is meth related.
“Meth is now the number one drug in rural America — absolutely, positively — end of question,” says U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne. “This dope is the scourge of rural areas across the nation.”
What's more, says Payne: “International traffickers are aggressively targeting rural areas. Traffickers think they can escape law enforcement in rural areas.”
Called the poor man's cocaine, meth is popular because the effects are so powerful and last longer than many other mind-bending drugs. Meth affects the central nervous system and gives the user a rush.
Some common slang terms for meth are crank, glass, speed, crystal or ice. It can be injected, snorted, taken orally or smoked. The drug has a phenomenal rate of addiction — some users get hooked after just one use.
Meth is a simple drug to produce and ingredients are readily available and inexpensive. Besides anhydrous, for example, dealers cook ephedrine by removing buffers from pseudoephedrine found in many over-the-counter medicines (i.e. Sudafed). There's even legislation in many states to limit the amount of these cold remedies that can be purchased over-the-counter.
Theft of anhydrous ammonia from farms has grown to alarming proportions in recent years. Drug lab scouts roam country roads looking for tanks they can break into under cover of darkness.
You can do your part by taking steps to stop theft, including:
Keep tanks in a well-lit area and out of plain sight from the road.
Try to keep only as much anhydrous ammonia as you need on the farm at a time. Have tanks delivered as close to the time of application as possible. Immediately return them to the bulk plant when finished. If application is delayed even a day or two because of weather, return the tank to the supplier.
When possible, lock the tank valve.
Look for evidence of theft around a tank, such as containers, hoses or excessive footprints. If you are the victim of a theft, contact law-enforcement officials immediately and try not to disturb the scene.
It's up to all of us to do what we can to stop this alarming rural drug problem. Please do whatever you can.