Meth is king in Rockbridge County

By Rachel Hicks

While opioids are making national headlines, cases of methamphetamine in Rockbridge County have doubled in two years.  

John Young, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services, said the patients struggling with meth addiction at the substance abuse treatment facility jumped from 5 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2017. 

Chris Billias, commonwealth’s attorney for Lexington and Rockbridge County, said meth is one of the most difficult addictions to treat. 

“Even one time can make you an addict,” he said.  

Chemicals to make meth, like acetone, lithium and hydrochloric acid, can be purchased at local supply stores. (Photo by Rachel Hicks)

Drugs like meth promote a vicious cycle for addicts who are jailed for using the drug often return to it after they are released, Billias said.  

“They get out of jail and are right back in there.” 

And many people who begin inpatient treatment through RACS often quit. Only 30 percent return for outpatient services, Young said.  

Crista Cabe, director of public relations and development at RACS, said the agency provides prevention services like Live Healthy Rockbridge Kids and Too Good for Drugs to help children of substance abuse addicts avoid following the same path as their parents.  

“Our prevention services [do] work hard to get to people before [addiction hits],” Cabe said.  

Lexington police Detective Nathan Kesterson said meth addiction is disturbing. He remembers a woman who had decaying teeth and skin sores. 

“She was just so paranoid and she couldn’t sit still,” he said. “It was just very erratic behavior. She was saying that the police were going to kill her.”  

Meth is easy to make and hide, he said. It can be made with a few generic chemicals from local supply stores, such as camp fuel and sulfuric acid. Some people even “shake and bake” meth in their car.  

“You can watch YouTube videos that show you exactly how to make meth,” Kesterson said. “It’s not hard to do, but it is very dangerous.”  

He said it’s difficult to find and arrest meth distributors in the county because they often have labs in their basements or automobiles.   

“These small labs are so readily taken apart and destroyed,” he said.  

Kesterson said meth cases tend to get little attention.  

Lexington Police Detective Kesterson said meth labs are difficult to track down in rural areas. (Photo by Rachel Hicks)

“People here just don’t get the time that they should,” he said. 

Almost 32 percent of inmates in the U.S. received reduced sentences for meth convictions, while only about 7 percent received lower punishment for heroin, according to the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission’s 2017 Annual Report.  

Young said RACS employs eight staffers who serve about 30 people each. He said the organization would like to expand its services but does not have enough money.  

He blames the stigma of “meth heads,” people addicted to meth, as the reason for lack of government funding.  

“The stigma is… that folks that are chemically dependent are weak, that they don’t have good moral values and that they’re… frowned upon by the larger society,” Young said. “It would be good if we could treat every substance abuse issue as a national emergency.”