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Meth Speeds through Midwest
By Dan Gunderson
November 3, 1997

Click for audio Part One (RealAudio 2.0 14.4 )
Law enforcement officials say an old drug is making a comeback in the Midwest. Methamphetamine has been around for years - it used to be known as "the biker drug." Most of the illegal traffic in the drug was controlled by outlaw biker gangs such as the Hells Angels. But in the last couple of years, methamphetamine has become increasingly common and is the drug of choice in many rural areas. Some drug agents compare it to the crack cocaine epidemic that swept inner cities in the '80s.

TWO YEARS AGO METHAMPHETAMINE cases were unusual in North Dakota. Last year there were 108 - this year there have already been more than 100 meth busts. In Minnesota drug agents say the number of meth cases has increased tenfold in the past two years. Experts say methamphetamine is especially dangerous because it provides the intense high of cocaine at a fraction of the cost. And the high lasts much longer. Gerard Kotenbrock vividly remembers the first time he tried meth. He was dealing drugs when a friend offered him a new kind of high.

So I snorted a little bit. I thought "I'll catch a good buzz," and like a day and a half later I came over to his house going like (switches to druggie voice), "Man this stuff is really good. How can we get some more of this stuff?" - like blah, blah, blah. It's like (snaps fingers) addiction. You just wanted this stuff, more and more and more.
To keep supplied Gerard soon hooked up with a "cooker" - someone with the expertise to make meth in a homemade lab. Most methamphetamine used in the Upper Midwest is imported from California. But increasingly, people are setting up their own manufacturing labs, especially in rural areas.
Somebody can set up a lab in an abandoned farmhouse and pretty much go undetected.
John Schneider is the US attorney for North Dakota. He says until two years ago law enforcement had busted one meth lab in the history of North Dakota. Since then a dozen labs have been found. Federal officials say 26 labs were raided in Minnesota last year.
The recipes for putting methamphetamine together are on the Internet, and the precursor chemicals are readily available. So any wannabe chemist with a bathtub can make this stuff - and they are.
Not only do methamphetamine labs produce an illegal and sometimes deadly drug, but the potent brew of chemicals can cause explosions and toxic fumes. Aaron Rash, the head of the North Dakota crime lab, says illegal labs often leave behind a toxic mess needing the attention of the Pollution Control Agency.
(hazardous waste site.)

These chemicals are considered hazardous waste. If they're just dumped out on the ground, the EPA looks at 'em very seriously as potential pollution to our water systems.

Rash says the toxic leftovers make the labs expensive and time consuming to investigate and clean up.

The human damage caused by methamphetamine can also be costly. The drug can cause heart problems, and - because people addicted to meth often don't eat for days - other medical problems can develop. Use of the drug can also lead to severe psychological dysfunction.

Gerard Kotenbrock says the first few months he used meth was like perpetually reliving the best day of his life.

And if there's a heaven, I'm sure that's probably a lot what it's like, 'cause no matter what happens, you're OK. You feel good. But, again, the deceptive nature is - it's like, you know, you take a trip into hell.
For Gerard, the descent started with short-term memory loss and difficulty making decisions. Then paranoia began to creep in.
One night, I snuck out of the house to a phone booth down the street and called the cops, and I was whispering, "There's somebody in the house. Come watch the house." I'm whispering to the cops, and I gave 'em my address and hung up the phone. And I was still selling at the time. That is so bizarre, but like I knew somebody was in the house, and I didn't know who it was.
Kotenbrock would spend hours taking apart his house looking for hidden cameras. He recalls one day sitting in his house watching the milkman making his rounds.
And I looked out the door, and it hit me that's where the recording equipment is. That's how they're doing it. So this milk truck starts driving down the street to the next stop, and I run after it and jump on the bumper. I open up that door and (screams) I scream, and I look around and there's milk in the milk truck. and I didn't say at that point, "Yeah Gerard, you are doped out of your mind." I said, "How did they do that? How did they switch that on me?"
Kotenbrock soon hit bottom and spent hours huddled in a corner of his house cradling a rifle, waiting for unseen intruders.

Then one night some friends tied him up and hauled him to the psych ward at a local hospital.

I just remember I wanted to go completely insane, or I wanted to die, 'cause I didn't think I could feel what I was feeling for another minute. I pretty much figured I would have to blow my head off. I was in such emotional and physical pain. I couldn't live that way.
Gerard Kotenbrock survived. He's now attending college and planning to be an addiction counselor. He considers himself lucky. He says some friends from his drug days have committed suicide, others are in prison. He says law enforcement can't defeat methamphetamine. He'd like to see more education. He says anyone tempted to use the drug should know they'll be flirting with the devil.