FD fire experts cite dangers of meth

The number of methamphetamine labs in Fort Dodge has decreased significantly in the past 15 years, according to Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter.

But, unfortunately, the number of users has not

According to Hergenreter, it’s the process that has changed.

Fewer people are manufacturing meth, but many are still buying it.

“Compared to 20 years ago when we first started seeing them and then in early 2000s, Iowa was seeing more than 1,500 meth labs a year,” he said.

“It’s nothing like it was around 2000. There were some days where we would have two to three a day just in the city of Fort Dodge.”

The number of meth lab responses in Iowa has dwindled to fewer than 100 per year, according to Hergenreter.

But that doesn’t mean meth isn’t being abused. A lot, he said.

What changed was the process for making the drug. It was directly impacted about 10 years ago with to a law restricting the over-the-counter sale of pseudoephedrine.

“The big change was they put pseudoephedrine behind the counter,” Hergenreter said.

A popular method for making the drug — shake and bake — involves turning a mixture of toxic ingredients into meth by placing them in a small container.

It’s a dangerous method.

According to Hergenreter, regardless of the technique used, manufacturing meth poses a fire threat.

“All methods of making it have a high risk of fire. People have suffered serious burns from trying to make it,” he said.

“They are using flammable solvents and water-reactive metals, so they have all the ingredients to have a fire,” he said.

That was the case locally about a month ago when a string of meth lab accidents led to fires.

“We had three meth lab incidents within a week,” Hergenreter said. “So that was surprising to see a spike like that. We hadn’t had any activity like that in a while. These were three meth labs that evolved to fire.”

Each of those fires started outside of a home. Two were located on the north side of Fort Dodge. The other was on the south side of the city.

And each started under similar circumstances.

“They were all found in that five-day period and they were all found at 5 a.m.,” he said.

Hergenreter can’t say if the fires were started during the process of making the drug or started to destroy evidence.

Kenny Moen, a Fort Dodge firefighter and emergency medical technician, said meth causes people to take extreme action when it’s not necessary.

He recalled a fire that was started by a man using meth. It was in another county, he said.

“He was mad at his roommates because they wouldn’t give him the keys to the pickup,” Moen said.

To get back at them, the man set fire to the house while people were upstairs.

“It started in the stairway,” Moen said. “People died from this. Other people had to jump from the second story and the house was a total loss.”

Later on he asked one of the deputies how the man was doing.

“He said, ‘that’s what meth will do to you,'” Moen said. “He said, ‘he’s back down now, but he knows what he did. He knows the consequences and he said that’s the effects of meth.'”

K2 and other synthetic drugs have also become more prevalent.

“K2 is a problem in our area,” Moen said. “Some states are having a huge epidemic of opioids. We have not had that in Webster County yet.”

Interestingly, from an addiction standpoint, Moen and Nathan Conrad, another Fort Dodge firefighter, identified alcohol as the most abused substance in this area.

Alcohol-related calls are frequent, Conrad said.

“I would just say you aren’t surprised at any time of the day to get a call that’s alcohol-related,” he said. “It’s more prevalent on the weekends, but it could be any day at five in the morning or five in the afternoon. It doesn’t surprise you.”

Whatever the substance, Conrad said it impacts first responders’ jobs when people are suffering from withdrawals.

“The only time we deal with addiction is when they are trying to come down off something,” he said. “The hallucinations and, with the withdrawals, that’s when we really play a part in it.”

When someone has used a substance, it makes it more challenging for Conrad and other paramedics to help them.

“When you are trying to assess them, sometimes they don’t answer your questions the way you would like them to answer them or don’t take them seriously,” Conrad said.

“And when we are trying to rule out different causes for the behavior, it’s hard to lock down a prognosis when they aren’t communicating well.”

What is methamphetamine?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is known by many names – meth, chalk, ice, and crystal. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol.

Methamphetamine can be smoked, inhaled (snorted), injected, or orally ingested. Smoking methamphetamine is currently the most common way of ingesting it, according to NIDA.

Smoking or injecting methamphetamine puts the drug very quickly into the bloodstream and brain, causing an immediate, intense “rush” and amplifying the drug’s addiction potential and adverse health consequences. The rush, or “flash,” lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria — a high, but not an intense rush. Snorting produces effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.