It’s amateur hour in the methamphetamine business with police seeing a dangerous trend as more mom-and-pop-type drug labs spring up in the Lehigh Valley.
Last week, Jeffrey Lee Miller of 5457 Hartford Court in Lower Macungie was arrested after he admitted to officials responding to a fire at his home that he was manufacturing methamphetamine there. He stored his chemicals, tools and waste products under his home, according to court documents.
Another meth maker was busted living near a high school - in a home she shared with her two young girls.
A local teacher is accused of selling meth.
And meth cooking gone wrong filled a room with chemical-smelling smoke at a family-friendly hotel in a busy shopping area. The alleged perpetrator was charged with risking a catastrophe, among other crimes.
Two detectives who lead drug task forces for Lehigh and Northampton counties agree that more dealers are making their own meth. They differ on whether there's an upswing in methamphetamine trafficking.
“There’s a lot more labs but they’re smaller labs because the information is out there on how to make it at home,” said Joe Stauffer, Lehigh County’s chief detective of homicides and drug task force.
Wannabe dealers turn to the Internet for instructions on making meth, but that doesn’t make them experts, said Det. Andre Stevens, who’s in charge of the Northampton County Drug Task Force.
“More unskilled persons are trying to make meth than before, which is a big danger,” Stevens said. “Meth is made with very flammable and toxic substances so it is very dangerous for people to try to make that.”
Stauffer said he doesn’t think there’s been a significant increase recently in meth trafficking in Lehigh County. But in Northampton County, meth cases seem to have picked up, Stevens said.
Recent meth cases include these:
- Todd Laudenbach was arrested in April for allegedly operating a methamphetamine lab in the Hampton Inn on Easton-Nazareth Highway (Route 248) in Lower Nazareth Township. Laudenbach of Bushkill Township allegedly admitted that he’d been cooking meth and it had gone wrong. He and Denene Noel of Saylorsburg were charged with possession and manufacturing of methamphetamine, as well as risking a catastrophe.
- Carl V. Deutsch and Kimberly Landis Fizer were arrested April 8 on charges of allegedly manufacturing meth in their home at Kozy Korner Road in Upper Saucon Township, according to the criminal complaint. Police found chemicals, including red phosphorous, iodine and pseudoephedrine, which are ingredients for making meth.
- A Southern Lehigh teacher, Garrett Dudeck, was charged by federal authorites in March with allegedly selling meth from his home in Bethlehem. He is under house arrest while awaiting trial.
- Two Upper Nazareth men, James Schaffer, 49, and Timothy Getz, 27, were arrested for allegedly making and selling meth in Easton, Nazareth and Phillipsburg in March.
- In April, Rebecca L. Andrews pleaded guilty to selling meth out of her home on S. Gilmore Street, near Salisbury High School, and was sentenced to six to 23 months in Lehigh County Prison. Her boyfriend, David Russell Faust, had already been sentenced for running a meth lab in their home.
Typical signs of a meth lab at a home or business are "increased traffic. You’re going to have a lot of people stopping by for a very short time," said Stauffer.
Meth is highly addictive and the effects on addicts are devastating, Stauffer said. It ages people quickly, damaging their teeth and gums. Users lose weight and some feel like they have bugs under their skin, he said.
Faces of Meth is a project featuring before-and-after photos showing the grisly physical decay of young women and men hooked on meth.
“You’re going to have paranoia, decreased appetite, anxiety, weight loss, strong body odors,” Stevens said.
One of the ingredients in meth is pseudoephedrine, which can be found in some Sudafed cold and allergy products.
In an effort to curb meth production, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2006, which requires those Sudafed products to be sold behind the pharmacy counter. Customers have to present photo identification to buy them.
Arrests for meth are still relatively few compared to those connected to more popular drugs like cocaine.
Fifteen adults and four juveniles were arrested in Lehigh County for
possession of a synthetic drug, which is mainly meth and the drug called ecstasy, in 2010, according to Pennsylvania's Uniform Crime Reporting System.
That same year, another nine adults and one juvenile were charged with selling synthetic drugs.
In Northampton County in 2010, police charged seven adults with selling synthetic drugs; no juveniles were charged. That year, 17 adults and one juvenile were charged with possession.