Postcard from Texas Meth Country

In one East Texas town, a new brand of meth lab has business -- and the occasional house -- booming.

"I've seen things really change," Henson says. "Used to be everyone was growing marijuana. Then the meth came in. I've never seen nothin' like it. Our judicial system is just getting overwhelmed with these people." He says that on any given day, 50 to 60 percent of his inmates are where they are directly or indirectly because of meth, and chasing meth leaves his two-man narcotics squad, headed by Sergeant Allen Hill, time for little else.

If you believe the most recent statistics, meth use is actually down from 10 years ago. Supposedly, when the federal government forced people to register their IDs when purchasing Sudafed and other cold medicines containing meth's key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, domestically produced meth would fade into oblivion.

The Sudafed law did put a kink in the domestic meth trade for a couple of years. According to the Department of Health and Human Services' annual National Survey on Drug and Health, the number of past-month meth users has declined from 731,000 people in 2006 to 353,000 in 2010. Only 105,000 people became first-time users of meth last year, down from the peak of 299,000 in 2002. But according to Drug Enforcement Agency seizure and arrest records, meth is climbing again after a dip that bottomed out in 2007. In 2005, the DEA seized 2,161 kilograms of meth. That number fell to 1,113 kilos in 2007 but was back up to 2,067 kilos in 2010.

After the fire that claimed his mother's house, the scabs on James Durham's heavily inked torso tested positive for meth.
John Nova Lomax
After the fire that claimed his mother's house, the scabs on James Durham's heavily inked torso tested positive for meth.
Lawman Henson and misfit Durham share a moment in the chapel of the Angelina County Jail. Although he's arrested Durham dozens of times, Henson says he's a great guy when he's off the meth.
Courtesy of Angelina County Sheriff's Office
Lawman Henson and misfit Durham share a moment in the chapel of the Angelina County Jail. Although he's arrested Durham dozens of times, Henson says he's a great guy when he's off the meth.

Overall, the stats would seem to show that there are fewer new users of meth and that an increasing percentage of it is coming into America from south of the border. But that is not what happened, at least not in Angelina County, according to experts on either side of the law.

Hill disputes just about every one of the findings and stats except the one showing the imported Mexican meth is up. As Durham puts it, "When the laws do somethin', the junkies are gonna do somethin'. They're never gonna stop it."


This time around, that something has been the advent of the shake-and-bake lab. The line between meth fiend, dealer and cook has been blurred as never before. Older methods of meth cooking, the so-called "Nazi" or P2P and red phosphorus styles, took more time and more expertise.

"It took them about 18 hours to get the meth oil and another 20 to get the finished meth from that," Henson says of the Nazi method. "You could smell it — they used ether to kick it off and it smelled like rotten eggs." Henson says the users reeked of their product, too.

"My wife and I could go to Walmart and you could smell the Coleman fuel," he says. "They have sores on 'em called 'spider bites,' but they are really blisters and they're always scratchin', and when they bust, you can smell it. Those chemicals want to come out."

In the old days, meth labs were located deep in the backwoods. What's more, some of the components, chemicals like P2P and anhydrous ammonia, were somewhat hard to come by. That's not the case today with shake-and-bake labs. Any fool can now go on the Internet and look up a recipe, obtain all the components and whip up a batch inside of an hour in his or her home, a motel room or even a car.

"Now I can walk in one store and come out with all the ingredients for a lab," Durham enthuses. "One store! I can go to Walmart right now and come out with the best dope you ever seen in your life. Throw some lithium in there, a little fuel, a little bit of red lye, you got it goin' there. It's called a reaction and you've got a good reaction, you've got good dope. It just ain't gonna be as pure as the other dope."

"Everything that they put in it except for the Sudafed has a skull and crossbones on it: iodine crystals, Liquid Heet, Drano, muriatic acid, Coleman fuel," Henson says.

Meth heads like Durham don't mind the idea of literally fueling themselves up. Durham looks on his own meth recipes with pride. "When shake-and-bake first started it was trash," Durham says. "But then I started lookin' at it and figurin' out ways of my own."

He prided himself on his technique. He was not one to just slop everything together and shoot up a quick fix. Call him the Guy Fieri of meth: "It's just like macaroni and cheese," Durham says, grinning big. "If you take that and throw it in a pot for three or four minutes, you can just throw in the cheese and eat it. But if you let it slow-simmer for eight or ten minutes, then put you in a li'l milk and some bacon bits and some butter, and then put the cheese in there? The bomb! Right?"

Durham says his dope always had the key quality meth freaks craved. "They want legs, and what legs means is they want to ride for a matter of days. Boom!"

He says that his trips to Walmart often turned into chemical searches. He would read the labels of every fuel, cleaner, solvent and medicine. "It's just a habit," he says. "And if you see somethin' that has sulfuric acid, you're gonna go, 'Hmmm.' 'Cause if that's in there, you can find a way to take the rest of the stuff out. You can separate it. They put it together, and if you know how to separate things, then you got it. That's how shake-and-bake came about and now it's bad to the bone."


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15 comments
Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Lan
Lan

I am a 27 years old doctor,mature and beautiful. and now i am seeking a good man who can give me real love, so i got a sername Andromeda2002 on  Agedate.СòM, a nice and free place for younger women and older men,or older women and younger men, to interact with each other.Maybe you wanna check out or tell your friends.

Sakara
Sakara

just kill all these junkies.

Texasdave60
Texasdave60

fourth photo down, left most column = Dave Grohl's stunt double. I cast no aspersions on Mr. Grohl, but, damn! if that isn't the spit n image!

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

FTFA on the industry response to making these medications available only by prescription:

"However, experts predict that lobbyists from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Merck, mindful of the collective $500 million a year these cold medicines bring to their coffers, would fight a similar national bill tooth and nail."

Yeah, these companies understand upon which side their bread is buttered. Thank the lord for the good intentions of our pharmaceutical lobbyists.

Jw2400
Jw2400

my next door dude does this shit for 5 days in a row and he takes everything apart in his unit including his computer and is a total freak. He thinks that it is curing his AIDS and he is crazy

Iceman
Iceman

Interesting piece--I like your style, Mr. Lomax. Additional props on getting through a 5000 word article about meth without referencing "Breaking Bad." Awesome show, by the way.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

What's really sad is, listen to how the guy describes hunting for certain chemicals and getting the perfect reaction. If he had applied that kind of diligence in school, where would he be now?

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

Look forward to reading the article but right now, all I want to say is "what a great image for your front page". Reminds me of the old '50's postcard colors.

NatWu
NatWu

There's never a time not to talk about Breaking Bad!

Phil
Phil

looks like dave grohl to me

 
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