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Meth's artificial strength

Law enforcement talks about the impacts of the drug in jail


A chair with restraints sits near the main entry at the Union County Jail. Sometimes the side effects of methamphetamine give the user superhuman strength. (Cherise Kaechele/The Observer)

The use of methamphetamine is rampant in Union County, according to Union County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Ward. Many inmates in the local jail are there because of meth.

Approximately 50 percent of the inmates are there on drug charges, said UCSO Sgt. Nick Huelter. Of those inmates, an estimated 95 percent are addicted to meth.

“People use it because it makes them feel good,” Ward said. “But it’s not worth it in the short term — or the long term.”

Meth stimulates the central nervous system, he said.

“You get a feeling of euphoria, you’re energized, and you get

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The use of methamphetamine is rampant in Union County, according to Union County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Ward. Many inmates in the local jail are there because of meth.

Approximately 50 percent of the inmates are there on drug charges, said UCSO Sgt. Nick Huelter. Of those inmates, an estimated 95 percent are addicted to meth.

“People use it because it makes them feel good,” Ward said. “But it’s not worth it in the short term — or the long term.”

Meth stimulates the central nervous system, he said.

“You get a feeling of euphoria, you’re energized, and you get a feeling of invincibility,” Ward said.

On top of that, those who are high on meth can have a increase of inhuman-like strength.

“It’s a release of truly incredible physical strength,” he said.

And law enforcement has the extra challenge of putting that person into a prison cell.

Huelter said the “weird” thing is, the drug manifests itself differently.

“Some people will sleep, while others will experience energy,” he said.

Ward and Huelter said they have seen people “beat their head against the wall” while under the influence of the drug.

“It’s insane behavior,” Huelter said.

Another challenge is that when they are confronted with someone who seems high, officers can only guess at what’s causing the behavior. Until they have the results of a drug test, they base it off what they’ve seen in the past.

The reaction can also be a sign of someone who is mentally incapacitated.

“We can’t tell whether it’s organic or illegal,” Huelter said.

The county is massively under-resourced when it comes to handling inmates with mental illness, Ward said. Those resources the county does have won’t take patients who have illegal drugs in their system.

This poses a problem when a mentally ill person is under the influence of a hard drug because he or she isn’t suitable for the general population at the jail.

The jail has an isolation cell, two segregation cells and a detoxification cell. The detox cell has no toilet — which means the inmate can’t be in there for long due to regulations. The single isolation cell has a toilet and shower.

That results in its own set of problems since Ward said inmates have dove headfirst to the cement floor after jumping from one of the fixtures.

“We have yet to reach the point where we’ve needed more than four (isolation) rooms (at the same time),” Huelter said.

Meth isn’t always the culprit, Huelter said. They are seeing more people who are high from taking bath salts.

Where meth can give a person a high for three days, the high from bath salts can last up to three weeks.

“They are seeing and hearing things that are on a whole new level,” Huelter said. “They could’ve been normal for the last three to four days we saw them, then the high can start.”

The effects of the drug “can’t be quantified,” he said.

“There’s no reasoning with them,” Huelter added.

Bath salts added another dimension to the drug scene, Ward agreed. Now, the two drugs are being combined, which makes the inmates’ symptoms even more erratic.

The officers utilize the restraints they have at the jail as best they can, Huelter said.

“Some people aren’t combative at all,” he said. “Others are insane. We try to very carefully restrain them to keep themselves and the officers safe.”

Ideally, Ward said, they’ll have four officers in the jail available on the weekdays. There are two on the weekends, with three floor deputies outside the jail.

“That’s not enough when someone is combative,” Ward said.

Those inmates who are highly violent don’t care about putting themselves, or the officers, in danger.

“They have artificial strength,” Ward said. “They’re impervious to pain and they don’t care if they hurt us.”

A lot of the time, people become addicted to meth or other hard drugs because they were born into the lifestyle or as a result of trauma, Ward said.

Meth is a drug that people can easily get addicted to, Ward said.

While 10 percent of people who drink alcohol become addicted, 90 percent of those who use meth become addicted, Ward estimated.

“It’s a highly dangerous drug,” Ward said.