Meth labs springing up all over East Central Illinois

   URBANA ? William Nally warns that methamphetamine is going to be a problem for East Central Illinois.

   Nally, a self-admitted addict, knows about the dangers of methamphetamine firsthand. He recently pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine-manufacturing chemicals and was sentenced to four years of probation under drug court supervision.

   In an interview Monday, after his second appearance in Champaign County drug court, Nally said meth is easy to make. He said he, like most meth addicts he knows, manufactured the drug for himself and a few friends.

   ?I would urge anyone who has the information not to pass it on,? the 33-year-old Nally said. ?It puts you in a different world. You don't realize what's happening to you.?

   Authorities are also concerned that the use and production of ?meth? is a growing problem in East Central Illinois. Champaign County drug agents have dismantled six labs so far this year, while Vermilion County has raided 11 meth labs. The drug is highly addictive, and the meth labs are extremely dangerous, officials say.

   A suspected meth lab is believed to be the cause of an explosion and fire west of Thomasboro on April 19. Sgt. Brian Henn, supervisor of Task Force X in Champaign County, said the drug agents were called by the sheriff's department to assist deputies and volunteer firefighters.

   ?There were indications that there were some hazardous materials there that we needed to process and make the location safe,? Henn said.

   One of the most important issues for the area drug task force groups in East Central Illinois in the past couple of years has been to train local police departments on how to deal with suspected meth labs, Henn said.

   ?We did some very intensive training two years ago to head off the proliferation of meth issues in Champaign County,? he said.

   Local police, working with local merchants, have been very responsive, Henn said.

   Methamphetamine is not a new phenomenon, but the rapid spread of small methamphetamine labs has been a growing problem, officials say.

   Meth, also known as ?crystal meth,? ?crank,? ?speed? or ?ice,? is made from a combination of products that are generally available at any store, but most people would not expect to mix or ingest them. Key ingredients are pseudoephedrine, or cold pills, and lithium from battery strips. Starter fluid, household cleaners, ether and anhydrous ammonia ? a compound of nitrogen and oxygen that farmers use to fertilize their fields ? are also part of the process and help to make it dangerous to meth manufacturers, their families and neighbors. That's one reason it is often cooked in rural areas.

   ?They call it ?hillbilly heroin' for a reason,? said Sarah Carlson, assistant state's attorney in Champaign County.

   ?Everything we've heard is that it is probably the most addictive drug on the streets,? said her colleague, Duke Harris, the lead drug prosecutor in Champaign County.

   Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Bass said officials began to see a rapidly growing number of makeshift methamphetamine labs in the mid- to late 1990s. It spread from the Quincy region across the state, he said.

   ?It's highly addictive, and it is capable of being made with products that are sold over the counter,? Bass said.

   The Champaign County prosecutors agreed that most local meth-related cases have involved people from other counties or western Indiana arrested after buying or stealing large quantities of pseudoephedrine, lithium batteries or other so-called ?precursors? used in the chemical process to manufacture the drug. But now, they are starting to see meth lab cases.

   ?Up to now, we haven't seen many local people who have the ability or wherewithal to ?cook' the meth,? Harris said.

   Nally said he had used ?crank? off and on for about three years, but then became an addict and started manufacturing the drug in August 2002, mostly to support his own habit.

   He and his wife, Kathryn, 27, were arrested Jan. 2 with methamphetamine manufacturing chemicals and materials in their car. They had purchased boxes of pseudoephedrine at the Target on North Prospect Avenue and then went to the Dollar Store to buy some more.

   Court records show police found tubes and a supply of anhydrous ammonia in the car, along with drug paraphernalia and drug residue. Also in the car were their two children, ages 3 and 4, who were placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services.

   They got to visit their children and went to church on Easter Sunday.

   Nally said his life ?fell apart pretty fast? once he started making meth.

   ?We both had good jobs,? Nally said. ?We ended up losing everything. They took our kids.?

   Kathryn Nally was sentenced on Feb. 26 to 30 months of regular probation. William Nally was sentenced on April 10 to four years of probation under the supervision of drug court.

   In a letter to Judge Jeffrey Ford, Nally said he understood drug court to be a ?very tough, strict program,? but added, ?That's what I need, and I will succeed.?

   Nally said in an earlier letter to Presiding Judge J.G. Townsend that he now realizes what a serious problem his addiction is.

   ?I realize this ?bust' needed to happen and that we have a chance to better ourselves. And a chance to provide a better life for our children,? Nally wrote.

   A week earlier, Judge Ford warned Nally and another person making a drug court appearance that they would be tested for drugs and alcohol and would have to obey all rules of probation; otherwise they could be resentenced to prison.

   The judge said he has heard testimony that indicates not only that methamphetamine is very addictive, but also that it is very dangerous to the users and those around them.

   ?People will stay awake for a very long time,? Ford said. ?They don't eat. They don't sleep. They become paranoid. Anything will set them off.?

   Nally himself fought with officers when he was arrested. He and his wife both admitted that the drug caused them to lose a lot of weight. Kathryn Nally said she has gained back some weight since her arrest. William Nally said he lost more than 20 pounds.

   ?The cravings are terrible,? he said. ?I spent four months in jail, but since I got out, I've had the cravings. It seems like it never goes away.?

   Nally said he and his wife are again going to church, and he has attended support group meetings to deal with his addiction.

   He said that when he was living in Terre Haute, ?crank,? as it was known there, was very common, but very expensive. That's why so many people are learning to manufacture it themselves, he said.

   ?You don't get a pleasant high,? Nally said. ?You get very edgy, very compulsive. You are always doing something. It has to be about the addiction; it's not about the high.?

   Nally said many people trade precursors for the finished meth product from someone who makes it. An addict can get one-third of an ounce of meth in trade for 500 pseudoephedrine pills. He said people are selling anhydrous ammonia for $200 a gallon. Most farmers or farm chemical suppliers won't notice a few gallons missing from their tanks, he said.

   

   You can reach Steve Bauer at (217) 351-5318 or by e-mail at sbauer@news-gazette.com.

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