Field Notes

Cop sees 'heartbreaking' loss as meth makes a comeback

Cop sees 'heartbreaking' loss as meth makes a comeback
Brett Pearson (left) and Robert Miller, accused of shooting Pearson's parents

The 17-year-old sat in jail last week telling a reporter things were supposed to be different.

Brett Pearson that said instead of being there, he should have been at home having dinner with his parents.  The problem was that he and a friend of his, according to police, had shot and killed his mother and shot and wounded his father.

Why did things go so wrong?

Meth, he told the reporter.
 

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” says Captain Mark Kruger, commander of the Portland Police Bureau’s Drugs and Vice Division, when he hears the Pearson story. “Just heartbreaking.”

Kruger’s been an officer in Portland for 20 years. He grew up here and has seen meth use in the region decline. And he has watched with sadness and anger as it’s gone back up.

“There is an abundance of meth on the streets,” he says. “There was a tremendous decline around 2004 when the state removed Sudafed from the shelves. But that’s a thing of the past.”

Two things changed as a result of the change in state law – people in Oregon pretty much stopped making meth; meth labs are now virtually unheard of here and the Mexican cartels got involved.

“The Mexican cartels have gotten involved in a tremendous way,” he says. “They are making it on an industrial basis and smuggling it in.”

“Methamphetamine continues to be highly available and widely used,” according to the 2013 Threat Assessment and Counter-Drug Strategy prepared by the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force.

Meth “remains the most serious drug threat to Oregon.”

Kruger says it’s as bad now – or worse - than it’s ever been.

And the numbers back him up.

In 2009, the drug and vice squad seized 13,110.6 grams of the drug. By 2012 that number had come close to tripling.

And that doesn’t include what meth is seized by patrol officers.

The federal government does an annual report looking at people arrested in certain cities – including Portland – around the country and whether or not they test positive for drugs.

In 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, 23.2 percent of people arrested in Portland tested positive for meth. The good news is that it’s down from ten years ago when the number peaked at 27 percent. The bad news is the number is once again on the rise.

And with meth on the rise, so are meth-related deaths.

In 2004, there were 78 meth-related deaths in Oregon, according to the state medical examiner’s office. By 2010, the number had grown to 107. In 2012, the last year for which numbers are available, there were 93 meth-related deaths; down from the previous two years but still roughly a 20 percent increase over 2004.

The HIDTA report notes that a majority of Oregon law enforcement officers surveyed in 2012 called meth “their area’s greatest drug threat” and said it is “the drug which contributes most toward violent crime and property crime.”

The report also says that meth-related crime, “such as identity theft, abused and neglected children and other serious person and property crimes, continues to be a daily problem.”

Kruger says his officers see the effects every day.

“We see it connected to virtually every criminal issue we deal with,” he says. “From the disintegration of families and child custody issues to burglaries and assaults, so much of it is traceable back to addiction. And more and more these days, that addiction is once again to meth.

“People get addicted and commit crimes to fuel their fix.”

Kruger says frequently they are seeing addicts who started out abusing prescription drugs.

“But then they reach the point where their access to prescription drugs is cut off or they can’t afford it,” he says. “And they turn to what’s cheaper and more available.”

Kruger says that in addition to the heartbreak of seeing young people stumble down the road to addiction, it’s also hard to watch the seemingly endless flow of foot soldiers who are dealing the stuff.

“It’s horrible to watch these people come up from Mexico to deal not realizing that the cartels who are sending them don’t care about them as people,” he says. “The cartels send them here knowing that will get arrested and when they do, they will just replace them.”

Kruger says one of the hardest parts is watching the victories they had a decade ago erode.

“It’s frustrating to see what’s happening,” he says. “But what I do, what you have to do, is focus on the small victories. I focus on what disruptions we can cause to what the cartels; focus on what we can take off the streets.

“It’s so sad when you hear about a young person who has become addicted and has destroyed their life,” he says.”

Like Brett Pearson who, cops say, along with a friend killed his mother and wounded his father.