ORANGE COUNTY, Texas — Most of the nation is facing an unprecedented epidemic— opioid addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling it a public health crisis.
However, trends in Texas, show the rise of another drug—methamphetamine.
It’s more potent and cheaper than opioids.
12News investigator Lauren Hensley has been working with federal, state and local agencies to try and piece together how prevalent the issue is in Southeast Texas.
In the month spend working to look into the issue, 14 people were arrested for possession of methamphetamine. That’s almost an arrest every other day.
According to prosecutors, the reality is harsh—methamphetamine use is surging – especially in Southeast Texas.
It doesn't discriminate depending on age, where you live, or how much money you make.
12News started digging into the numbers, looking into arrests and other data and it led us to Orange County.
It's what some experts believe is the epicenter of meth problems in Southeast Texas.
Krispen Walker is one of the seven assistant district attorneys working in the Orange County courthouse.
"I would probably say that on my caseload, I would think probably about 75-80% are related to some form or fashion related to the meth problem," Walker said. "It’s a lot. It’s huge and it’s growing."
She says in 2018, indictments were handed down in 254 felony drug cases, most involving methamphetamine.
In 2019, that number increased to 336. Again, most involved meth.
"We have thefts, we have burglaries of houses, we have the copper thefts," Walker said. "Often times they are related to some kind of methamphetamine addiction."
So where's it coming from?
For the answer 12News traveled to Houston to talk to DEA agent Steven Whipple.
"Straight out of Mexico," Whipple said. "They’ve improved their synthesis process, so that it really is fast and it is really cheap and they produce large amounts of highly pure crystal methamphetamine."
Whipple said in 2018, the DEA seized more than 20 times the amount of meth in Southeast Texas than it did in 2010.
He says the meth that's crossing the border is highly dangerous.
"We're seeing fentanyl mixed with methamphetamine," Whipple said. "Thirty-four years of doing this, I don’t understand the why behind that. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why you would mix a stimulant with a depressant."
A video from AFP news agency shows just how massive the meth making operation is in parts of Mexico.
AFP reports this facility in Mexico churns out 400 pounds of meth daily.
The amount of meth seized at American borders has tripled since 2014.
So far, in January alone, more than 40,000 pounds of meth have been taken off the streets.
Drug agents don't catch it all, and there's a good chance some of it ends up here, in Orange County.
According to Capt. Robert Enmon, the City of Orange in 2019 seized 2,508 grams of meth (approximately 89.8 oz.) with a street value of just over $75,000.
The narcotics division made 66 felony arrests, but this would include arrests for other drugs in the same penalty group. Beaumont records show that in 2018, 1500 doses were seized. In 2019, that number skyrocketed to 7,000.
To get a better understanding of the lasting effects meth can have, we talked to two recovering addicts.
Stacy Lonadier, a recovering addict, said I-10 is a big contributor to the accessibility of the drugs. She's now House Manager for Franklin House North.
"Interstate 10 is a huge delivery route for drugs. Drug trafficking goes on all the time on I-10 and it's just crazy," Lonadier said.
Misty Nance of Orangefield is also recovering.
12News asked if it's easy to get meth.
"It's easy. If you know where it’s at, it’s easy," Nance said.
She started using at 36. Her family disowned her.
"I had three DWI's, all with different substances," Nance said.
Lonadier is from Vidor. She says she also hurt those closest to her while using methamphetamine.
"I stole a lot of money from a lot of people using a computer," Lonadier said. "It was meth. Yeah, it was straight for meth.
The two also share something else, the struggles that come with recovery.
Beating the addiction—they say that's the hard part.
"The yellow key tag is for 120 days and I’ll get it tomorrow if God is willing I will get that key tag tomorrow," Nance said.
Lonadier remembers the day she decided to get clean.
"September 2012. It was a Friday the thirteenth," Lonadier said.
Both have reconnected with their families and have earned back their trust.
They want other addicts to know there is hope.
But they also know the stakes are high.
"If you walk out you are going to die. Because I've seen it, I've seen it," Lonadier said. "And it’s heartbreaking."
Imagine wanting to get clean, but having to wait months to get the help you so desperately need.
That's the reality so many addicts are facing—a wait list so long, many fall back into old habits before ever getting help.
Part two of this investigation will look into the treatment problems facing Southeast Texans, and some of the solutions we've found that could tackle this problem head on.