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In South-Central Kentucky, Meth Addicts Have Become Biggest Challenge to Law Enforcement

For Dean Crumbaugh, an incident that took place in January serves as the perfect example of how meth is making the job of law enforcement even more dangerous than it already was. Crumbaugh—a sergeant with the Glasgow Police Department—was assisting two fellow officers who had an altercation with a suspicious acting person at a gas station parking lot.

The suspect—who was behind the wheel of a car—backed into an officer who was on foot, and then sped away. The two officers and Sgt. Crumbaugh gave chase, following the suspect from Glasgow to the Warren County line about 20 miles away.

“This person ended up going through a fence row, driving through a farm, going down into the woods in this little low-rider looking car,” said Crumbaugh. “After running into a tree and blowing the air bags out, they got out of the driver’s side window and took off on foot. We had to eventually detain this person and take control of them with a taser.”

You might be imagining this fleeing suspect as a large man, running through the woods, evading arrest. Sgt. Crumbaugh says that’s not the case.

“It was about a 115 to 120 pound woman,” he says. “It was something you might expect from a hardened, 250 pound criminal man just out of prison. But that’s not what it was. It was a small woman.”

Officers discovered an active meth lab in the trunk of the suspect’s car. At that point, it all made sense to Sgt. Crumbaugh. Law enforcement officials interviewed for this story uniformly say there’s nothing like dealing with someone on meth. Glasgow Police Chief Guy Turcotte says his officers face violent encounters with meth addicts on an almost daily basis.

“Just last week I had two officers injured,” he said.

Meth sharpens the user’s mind in an almost fanatical way on a single task. Sgt. Crumbaugh says the meth addict he chased last month was able to drive a speeding car through narrow, twisty rural roads in the dark. He says there’s no comparison between someone who’s high on meth, and someone who’s, say, drunk.

“A person who had been drinking, after they were going 80 miles an hour down a curvy road would probably run off the road,” says Sgt. Crumbaugh. “A person who is on meth thinks they can drive better than what they actually can. And they’re willing to try anything.”

Meth is a stimulant, not a depressant like alcohol or marijuana. When a person smokes, snorts, swallows, or injects meth, it speeds up their thinking.

“At least initially they’re going to think clear, but they’re also going to think quicker,” says Glasgow physician William C. Thornbury, Jr. “It’s going to cause the brain to become much more focused on certain things.”

One of those things might be eluding police, for example. Another side effect of heavy meth use is a lack of sleep. Some meth users say they’ve stayed up for weeks at a time without sleeping because of all the stimulants in their bodies.

Dr. Thornbury says lack of sleep alone is enough to make a person manic.

“When you add meth to that, you’re just throwing gasoline on the fire,” he says. “And that makes those people even more dangerous because they’re not in a position where they’re trying to do things for the betterment of others. They’re doing it for the self-gratification of what they need. They’re only concerned about what their brain tells them to be concerned about, and that is ‘I want more pleasure, I want more of this drug.’”

This is the nightmare scenario that police in the region are facing when they encounter meth addicts: individuals who may not have slept or eaten in a week or longer. Someone who is high on a drug that makes them feel as if they have superhuman strengths.

Police in the south-central Kentucky region are getting a lot of opportunities to encounter violent, desperate meth addicts. Warren, Barren, Metcalfe, and Edmonson counties are in the top 10 statewide for number of meth lab busts.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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