The New Boss

Police have shut down most of the meth labs in Phoenix, but now the drug is a big import from Mexico -- cheap, pure and more plentiful than ever


Even if you don't have your hand directly in the meth pot, you can get burned. The cost of meth addiction to innocent bystanders is high, and it's growing every day.

Almost all child endangerment cases in the Valley are now meth-related, says the Arizona Attorney General's Office. One state worker, who asked not to be identified because of the secrecy associated with cases involving Child Protective Services, describes a grim situation, multiplied by the dozens:

Phoenix police book suspected meth cook Daniel Watkins outside his home, where cops seized two ounces of crystal and the makings of a small-time meth lab.
Peter Scanlon
Phoenix police book suspected meth cook Daniel Watkins outside his home, where cops seized two ounces of crystal and the makings of a small-time meth lab.
Mexican nationals at a Nogales port of entry wait for their vehicles to pass inspections by U.S. border officers. More than 1,200 pounds of meth have been seized at the Mexico-Arizona border so far this year.
Joe Watson
Mexican nationals at a Nogales port of entry wait for their vehicles to pass inspections by U.S. border officers. More than 1,200 pounds of meth have been seized at the Mexico-Arizona border so far this year.

Not long ago, police raided a meth house (rather, a double-wide trailer), and removed the children -- four under 8 years of age. The children were covered in meth residue. Their toys and clothing had to be thrown out. The oldest hadn't been going to school; none of the kids had been bathed in at least a week. The chemicals used to cook the meth were right outside the window.

The state worker knows of malnourished babies, covered in insects and insect bites. She continues: "Dirty diapers on the floor, rotting food on the floor, no clean and safe food for children to eat. If there are pets, frequently pet waste is around. There may be weapons around, because some meth houses have some pretty interesting security systems."

The big joke is that meth makes you want to clean the house, but this woman says she's never seen a clean meth house. Meth is used as a weight-loss drug, she says, and jokes, "Our internal belief is that it's also a fertility drug." Meth won't increase fertility, but it will lower inhibitions -- and that leads to so-called "meth babies," taken into state custody all the time.

Domestic violence shelter professionals report that meth use is spreading among both abusers and victims. It is almost always associated with cases of identity theft, and increasingly with property crimes.

Emergency room workers see the destruction meth causes on a daily basis.

Steve Stapczynski, chair of Emergency Medicine for Maricopa Integrated Health System, reports the prevalence of meth addiction at the county hospital.

"A 64-year-old woman came in recently with abscesses all over her body and her arms from dirty injections, these boils, these pockets of pus," Stapczynski says.

The addicts he sees are not using clean materials, he adds.

"What they inject hasn't been sterilized. And then they don't realize what's happening to them. They tend to ignore it because they're high on methamphetamine." As for the woman, "We cleaned her abscesses, and then she didn't want any treatment or help. Which is pretty common, because they don't want to get off the drug. It's used to the exclusion of everything else in their life. They're not making rational decisions."

Stapczynski continues, "We've had a patient or two come in with sexual hyperstimulation, someone who masturbates for days at a time. They get raw to the point that they just have to finally come in, or they get arrested for doing this in public. They'll come in and the skin [either the penis or vagina] will be broken and raw and foul-smelling from the bacteria down there. You walk into the room and get physically nauseous. It's like it destroys their sense of self-preservation.

"The other thing that is surprising is the number of times meth comes up in drug screens, whether it's for car accidents, or other types of injuries.

"We see that something just isn't right with that patient, and then the meth will show up. Its prevalence is amazing to us at times. People you wouldn't think [would be on it], and it will show up."

His conclusion: "It is placing an additional burden on the emergency room. It contributes to car accidents, pedestrian accidents, assaults and other violent crimes."

It also contributes to property crimes and identity theft.

In December 2002, Paul Waldman, 43, a photographer, left his Tempe apartment for a trip out of the country. Just the day after he left, his parents, who were watching the apartment, discovered Waldman's place "had been trashed."

A checkbook was gone; two bad checks had already been written. Two $100 savings bonds that his father gave him when he was a boy had been stolen. An autographed baseball, signed by Roberto Clemente, gone. Four antique cameras -- one belonged to his grandfather, another to his dad -- gone.

Police never caught the person who actually broke into Waldman's apartment, and three years later, Waldman's still dealing with credit card companies and other businesses that say he owes them money. The cops did catch Rodney (nicknamed "Robney") Richards, who wrote the bad checks, after a tweaker snitched on him, according to Matt Shay, a detective with the Phoenix Drug Enforcement Bureau.

According to Shay, Richards, 38, was a north Phoenix meth cook with several different storage lockers filled with stolen property, including several motorcycles, an ID-making machine (he used it to make fake Arizona driver's licenses) and equipment for three different meth labs. Shay says Richards had a team of about 20 burglars working for him.

Shay says Richards could have ended up in prison for life, after police linked him to 24 victims, but he got a reduced sentence of 10 years.

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