The Stigma of Meth
Ball State University sponsored a research project during 2016 to investigate Methamphetamine abuse in Delaware County, Indiana. The county is number one in Indiana for meth lab seizures.
The project culminated in a video documentary, a print magazine, and an informational website, all of which are available at http://stigmaunmasked.com/
Kelsey contributed three stories to the project which were published in the print magazine and on the website. These stories can be found below:
THE $1,000 HOME
Meth houses rehabbed to preserve neighborhood
By Kelsey Dickeson
Craig Graybeal bought a house a year ago at 1215 W. 10th St. for $1,000 after the tenants were busted for cooking methamphetamine in the attic. He planned to rehab and resell it as part of his nonprofit’s mission to restore neighborhoods.
The house was uninhabitable. The outside was overgrown by weeds. Once inside the house, Graybeal wore a mask, rubber gloves, and a hazmat suit to protect his skin from the residual chemicals from cooking meth. Trash was strewn throughout the house – old board games, stuffed animals, clothing, broken furniture, and fast food wrappers covered the floors.
Delaware County leads the state for the number of meth labs seized in homes. In 2016, between January and September, there were 126 meth labs seized in Delaware County, according to the Indiana State Police. The next highest county is Vigo with 52 meth labs seized in the same time period. In all of 2015, the number of labs seized in Delaware County was 235.
“It was a really junky house, a really small house that had been turned into a rental and it probably had a series of landlords who did not care about the house or the condition of the house,” said Graybeal, executive director of EcoREHAB, of Muncie. “Parts of the kitchen – what was left of the kitchen – was missing, all the bathroom fixtures, toilet, bathtub, valves, were missing.”
The Ball Brothers Foundation sponsored the immersive learning project. The Delaware County Historic Preservation Officer and Muncie Historic Preservation & Rehabilitation Commission wanted old houses in downtown Muncie to be repaired and rehabilitated so they could be resold and neighborhoods restored. With the help of about 20 Ball State University Department of Architecture students, the work was done in eight months.
Graduate student Hunter Crews worked on the house. Crews said he spent about 24-30 hours a week for eight months working on the 850-square-foot home. The difference from when the work started to now is “night and day,” he said.
“A lot of the windows were busted. There were holes in the foundation where animals were coming in and out. There was really no kind of interior finishing on it, there was a sub floor…it was just filthy everywhere. But now, I think it is a house that pretty much anyone would be proud to live in,” Crews said.
Graybeal said they chose remediation by demolition instead of spraying chemicals on the house to neutralize the harmful meth residue. Methamphetamine is a stimulant affecting the central nervous system. Cooking it requires toxic materials that linger in the atmosphere and attach to furniture, walls, and clothing, whatever is in the house. Once meth has been cooked, the entire contents of a home are considered contaminated.
“It was gutted to studs. There was nothing on the interior. All that trash, all the remnants of the kitchen, remnants of the bathroom, all the wiring, what remained of the HVAC system, all that stuff was gone,” Graybeal said. “I was left essentially, more or less with a new structure.”
A little less than 30 percent of Graybeal’s costs for rehabbing the house went toward cleaning it. Chris Hill, co-owner of DC Environmental Solutions, was responsible for decontaminating the 10th Street home. Hill said it was the most contaminated house they had ever seen and it took “two dumpsters full, four days and five guys.”
The BBF grant to rehab the house was $54,000. Graybeal will re-sell it for $33,000 to an income-qualified buyer. The numbers make it unlikely that investors will start buying up meth houses. But nonprofits believe it’s worth it to preserve the neighborhood.
Annette Phillips began looking into rehabbing meth homes in Muncie after seeing the condition of homes in the community.
“We were walking the neighborhoods, specifically Old West End, and I was noticing some of the buildings that had been tagged (for meth), and so I was just kind of curious because essentially they were tagged, they were vacant and they were just kind of sitting there. And most of them looked like they had been sitting there for quite awhile.”
Phillips is housing director for PathStone, a non-profit that provides services related to affordable housing. PathStone also buys and sells rehabbed meth houses. Homes are rehabbed and resold at affordable prices to low- and moderate-income families.
“Even on regular rehabs that we do, we put more money into it than what we can sell them for, but we see the value in maintaining the existing housing stock and keeping the integrity of the neighborhood,” Phillips said.
REHAB OR DEMOLISH
Muncie’s abandoned homes attract meth labs
By Kelsey Dickeson
Brad King was driving home from a neighborhood meeting in Muncie’s Old West End three years ago when he noticed red and blue lights flashing behind his home. Immediately, his thoughts turned to the safety of his wife and 3-year-old son.
Police told him his neighbors had been cooking meth.
“It’s not good to know you have a meth house in your neighborhood let alone one that is less than 150 feet away,” said King, who is Muncie’s Historic Preservation Officer and president of the Old West End Neighborhood Association.
The first nine months of 2016 saw a drop of about a third in the number of meth lab busts in Delaware County. But Brodie Cook, an Environmental Health Specialist for the Delaware County Department of Health, says the county still is on track to have the highest number of meth lab busts in the state.
The Old West End is one of 11 national registered historic districts in Muncie. The house where the meth lab was is not considered an historical home but it contributes to the historic significance of the district, King said.
“Neighborhoods like Gilbert and West End and East Central, they’re all downtown neighborhoods and it’s the oldest part of the city and it’s also the ones affected the most by blight and abandonment. It seems to be a winning recipe for cookers,” King said.
A survey conducted by ScoutMuncie in 2015 identified 900 vacant structures in 40 percent of the city of Muncie.
ScoutMuncie is a project led by volunteers from the Muncie Historic Preservation Committee that collects data to evaluate and identify the conditions of properties and areas within Muncie. The project was funded by the Ball Brothers Foundation.
The data collected by ScoutMuncie came from Forest Park, McKinley, Riverside and Whitely neighborhoods. Information in the date includes details about whether there is a structure on the land being evaluated, the condition of the structure, whether it was occupied, its architectural character and structural integrity.
If the ratio holds true for the 60 percent not surveyed, there are an estimated total of about 2,200 vacant properties.
“Abandoned houses are probably the number one spot to go find and cook meth. I live right around the corner from a giant abandoned house. A lady was found dead inside from drug usage two winters ago. We watch the house the best we can, my neighborhood association boarded up the house last summer, but you can’t be on guard 24/7,” King said.
It was two years after the bust of the home in Old West End that someone finally bought the property. King said he had reached out to the owner several times to ask him when the house would be remediated.
Known as Indiana’s “Meth Rule,” Title 318 IAC 1, says that a property used to cook meth must be decontaminated before it may be re-inhabited or resold, but the law does not give time restrictions for when that should be done. The result is that homes can sit untouched for years.
King said the city has started creating neighborhood investment programs that take vacant houses that aren’t bad enough to be demolished but in need of repair and remediation and sells them to an investor at a reduced cost so they’ll restore and remediate the home and resell it.
Craig Graybeal buys meth houses for as little as $1,000 to rehabilitate them for his non-profit organization, ecoREHAB, where he is executive director. EcoREHAB’s mission is to restore homes in an environmentally sustainable and affordable manner. The Ball Brothers Foundation has funded several ecoREHAB projects. Graybeal said there are more benefits to rehabilitating a home instead of demolishing it or leaving it vacant.
“If you tear the house down, there may never be something built there again, or if there is, it won’t aesthetically match the rest of the homes,” Graybeal said. “Having a quality house that somebody is living in is better than having an empty blighted house that nobody wants to live in.”
Heather Williams is program manager for Ball State University’s Building Better Neighborhoods and is president of the board of directors for ecoREHAB of Muncie. She says demolishing a home hurts the social fabric of the neighborhood.
“When you tear down a house, you end up with what we call ‘missing teeth’ on a block. So you could have had what was a perfectly beautiful face to the neighborhood, but if you tear down a house here and a house there, then it appears as if the street is missing teeth, which really detracts from the neighborhood. The residents feel that. They see that these houses are deteriorated, they’re blighted, they’re abandoned, but a lot of times they still see hope in that. And when you go and the city comes in and they tear down the house, that hope is lost, because it is not likely that house will be rebuilt,” Williams said.
When Graybeal needs one of his homes cleaned, he calls Chris Hill, co-owner of DC Environmental Solutions. Hill said he has cleaned around 30 homes in Delaware County due to meth labs since he started cleaning homes in 2013. DC Environmental Solutions also cleans homes in Henry, Madison and Randolph counties.
“As far as Delaware County, they seem to be in worse shape looking at them, but they don’t really do any different than the other test results most of the time.”
The acceptable level of contamination in Indiana is 0.5 µg/100 cm2 or lower. For a job where the level of meth in the home is just above 0.5, Hill said the company charges $4,000 to $5,000. Highly contaminated homes can cost as much as $10,000 to remediate. Hill said they will get a dumpster to empty all the contents of the home into and send it straight to a landfill.
“Some people say they don’t care what happens to the house. They’d rather just tear it down. We’ve told people it’s always worth it to – unless it’s just a complete dump – to get it tested. You’re taking the chance that if you tear it down it’s going to be fine, and you’re losing all that money. We’ve never had anybody that actually went through with having it demolished,” Hill said.
The EPA estimates that for every pound of meth produced, there are six pounds of highly toxic waste generated. Chemicals produced from meth can contaminate an entire building and its contents, including walls, carpets and furnishings of the structure. In addition, there can be further contamination of ground water if the materials used for the production of meth are drained into the soil or poured into indoor plumbing drains.
Indiana’s Meth Law is what allows Cook to label a home ‘unfit’ and deem it necessary to be cleaned.
“Once you have meth manufactured in an area, you can bet that the entire area is going to be contaminated. And that is true whether it is being cooked or whether it is being smoked,” Cook said.
In terms of rehabilitating a home, Cook said it depends on the condition of the house and how much money one wants to put into the house.
“Some of these houses are worth $10,000 or $15,000, so it doesn’t make sense to put in $6,000 or $7,000 worth of cleaning into a house that is barely worth that.”
King says the way to decrease the number of meth labs in Delaware County is to find a way to decrease the number of vacant homes in the community.
“We find a way to deal with abandonment of home, we will narrow the scope of where you can cook, for sure,” he said. “We will narrow down the scope of where you can use, for sure. We’ll also increase the property tax revenue, increase the property values, and give people something to be proud of,” King said.
Residential meth rehab center could help addicts
By Kelsey Dickeson
Delaware County Sheriff Ray Dudley has watched the meth problem grow here over the past few years and contends a local residential rehabilitation center devoted to meth users would help addicts cope with everyday life.
“One of the things I’ve heard from people is that they’ll work for a little bit and then they’ll go use drugs,” he said. “The problem is they just work for their addiction; they’re not working for anything else.”
Dudley believes addicts need intervention as soon as they leave jail. “We’re going to help them cut that drug addiction that they have. During this time we need to start trying to get them an education, get them with a job skill trade,” he said.
Dudley said his vision would include an educational program that family and friends also can attend so they can be informed about the issue in case their loved one relapses.
There are two rehab centers like what he describes in Hamilton County, one in Madison County, and four in Allen County. Although there are no rehab centers in Delaware County, there are behavioral health specialists that offer different kinds of treatment to addicts.
Amanda Whitten is a clinical supervisor for Delaware County Adult and Addictions Services at Meridian Health Services.
“Nobody just wakes up one morning and says, ‘I want meth to run my life, or I want heroin to make all my decisions,’” said Whitten. “We know that it’s been a process to get them where they are today.”
Meridian Health Services has several programs addressing addiction, including one-on-one therapy, group therapy ranging from individuals who are in early recovery to intensive outpatient treatment (IOT), and a third group called relapse prevention that is supposed to help addicts transition out of the group setting. There also is one program that is specific to opiate dependence.
“Very few people start out using meth. Meth is considered very intense. Even within the using community there’s a lot of stigma against meth: It’s dirty, that it’s not safe, that it’s just not a good avenue to go down,” Whitten said.
Dudley said a rehab center would give addicts a chance to recover before returning to the same environment they were using in.
“You’ve taken them from the gutter and you’ve given them a purpose to live,” Dudley said. “It’s not just their life; it’s their parents, their kids, brothers and sisters, family and friends we’re saving. This addiction doesn’t just affect the person on the drug, it affects everybody on it.”
Muncie has a range of peer support programs for drug users, including NA, Celebrate Recovery and Dual Recovery Anonymous. There is no therapist or social worker at those meetings, however. Someone who also is an addict runs them.
Whitten said peer support groups are going to change how Delaware County and other communities deal with addiction.
“I think there is discussion in the community that you can recover from just about anything, unless it’s meth … just trying to communicate out there that that’s not true … there definitely is hope.”
Whitten said it is important to learn to be sober where you are, and outpatient facilities can help addicts with that process of transitioning back into everyday life.
“Hypothetically, should a residential center ever open up, that would be great. If we could wave a wand and have one, I certainly would do it. But regardless of how long someone spends in a residential program … eventually you have to go back out into the real world,” said Whitten. “If you don’t have the option of residential, then you’re really just going to have to choose to dig your feet in and work on an outpatient level in your recovery, which has its own advantages and disadvantages, because that means that you are learning how to be sober where you’re at.”
There are several sober living environment facilities around Delaware County, including three in Fort Wayne, three in Indianapolis and one in Carmel. Sober living facilities use a 12-step method for treating addicts.
“This is my dream, this is my vision,” Dudley said. I think as a community, once we go out, keep talking about this, getting people involved in this process; I think that as a community we’re going to set a trend for not only Indiana but the nation.”