Akron’s Meth Team Cracking Down on Growing Problem

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AKRON, Ohio -- Of the nearly 900 home meth labs in Ohio that have been voluntarily reported by local authorities to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 255 of them have been in the city of Akron alone.

Police say the numbers do not mean that meth is a bigger problem in Akron than it is anywhere else in the state. They believe it is a reflection that the city has been very aggressive in both reporting and cracking down on the dangerous labs.

Fox 8 News rode along with the city’s "Meth Team" Tuesday night as they followed leads and tips from the community, looking for labs and ultimately finding evidence of one.

Officer Chris Crockett, who coordinated the teams activities, is described by his department as one of the best in the state at what he does.

The numbers are stunning. During the first four months of 2012, the team has already broken up more than 70 labs in the city of Akron alone.

Crockett says in some cases the people they are looking for are happy to see them at their door.

“This drug, again, it’s very addictive, and they use it for days and days at a time,” said Crockett.

“It kind of drains the life out of people,” he added. “It ruins relationships, families and children. When we knock on the door, you see sometimes an expression of relief when they allow us to come in, and we find a meth lab because they are basically done; they want help and they are not going to ask for it.”

Crockett says among the challenges is that many of the people they arrest continue to use or make meth, even after they have served prison time for related crimes.

“Probably about 85-percent of those that are arrested for manufacturing, and they do serve their time in prison, they get out, and they will do it again,” said Crockett.

People who suffer from allergies already have a more difficult time getting the medication they need for their symptoms because of the meth labs.

Pharmacies are required to keep detailed records about individuals buying medications with pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient found in many over-the-counter allergy remedies.

Most of the people making the dangerous drug at home do it by “cooking” it in plastic bottles using a mixture that includes lithium and pseudoephedrine.

The bottles are then discarded along with the "meth trash," making the process easier to hide and more attractive for those willing to risk making it at home.

“This drug is so easy to make; that’s why they're doing it,” Said Crockett, adding, “they don’t want to pay $120 for a gram of meth when they can pay 80-to-90 and make four or five grams.”

Among the items investigators found when they were allowed inside a house on 7th Avenue late Tuesday, was a coffee filter that tested positive for having methamphetamine powder on it and an empty box of 12-hour allergy tablets that was just bought a few hours before police arrived.

“Generally, we are looking for a two-liter bottle or some type of a plastic container that has other items inside of it that’s not supposed to be inside that container, such as you will see some sludge at the bottom and some other liquids in there with things floating around,” said Crockett.

The cleanup of the labs can also become an expensive issue for law enforcement agencies. To ease their burden, the Akron Police Department has created its own Clandestine Lab Team.

Among the hundreds of meth labs Crockett has personally been involved in shutting down was a lab at a home on St. Leger Avenue, where a 17-month-old child died in February.

The toddler’s death was attributed to the ingestion of chemicals from the production of meth. His mother, Heather Lerch, has been charged with murder.

On Tuesday night, the meth team arrested Jeremy Harbaugh, 28, and Amanda Harmon, 20.

Harbaugh is charged with assembly of chemicals, possession of methamphetamines, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Harmon is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of methamphetamine.

Lieutenant Brian Simcox says this was not the first time they had arrested Harbaugh on meth charges.

“It’s going to be an ongoing battle,” said Crockett, adding, “we are not going to stop. For every meth lab that we take down, we know that three more are starting up.”

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