Drug 'infection' spreading in Johnson County
Task force finds unusual items in Iowa City area
When it comes to drugs, if you can smoke, snort, shoot up or simply swallow it, chances are you can find it right here in Johnson County.
And, according to statistics from the Johnson County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force, there are drugs in Iowa City that officers across the state have yet to encounter.
"It seems like we wind up coming across stuff other people haven't," said Iowa City police officer Jerry Blomgren, task force officer and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration deputy. "Obviously, it tells you we have a variety of different drugs here and people are experimental."
The task force continues to combat the standard selection of drugs and in 2009 seized 40.785 kilograms of cocaine powder, .447 kilograms of cocaine, 4 grams of heroin and 1,533 pounds of marijuana, according to their statistics. However, the task force also encountered some more exotic drugs in 2009.
For instance, on March 27, 2009, an investigation led the task force to a residence in Iowa City. Inside, officers found what appeared to be some sort of active lab, but they had no idea what the manufacturer was trying to produce.
"We were absolutely stumped," Blomgren said. "We had never seen anything like that."
A quick call into the Iowa City Police Department, describing the jars of solution and other materials, confirmed what the officers suspected -- the residence was an active DMT lab.
DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a naturally occurring powerful psychedelic drug. Because no one can recall finding such a lab before, Blomgren said the task force thinks the lab was the first for Johnson County and perhaps the state of Iowa.
Blomgren said that's just one example of how Iowa City stands out as one of the few, if not only, cities in Iowa where nearly every popular and illegal recreational drug is readily available.
"I won't say you can get anything here," he said. "But if you can get it anywhere, you can find it here. There's no place in the state of Iowa that you can get more drugs quicker than in Iowa City."
Iowa City Police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said part of the reason Iowa City offers a cornucopia of controlled substances is the young, ever-changing population.
We have a large transient population," Brotherton said. "Large numbers of people from all over the United States and other countries. ... It's a big city in a small town. That's why you may see some of those trends coming here as opposed to Cedar Rapids. We draw from a larger population."
And with drugs comes additional criminal behavior, Brotherton said.
"That just makes it even more concerning," Brotherton said.
That's not to say Iowa City doesn't want and thrive on its diverse population, much of which comes from the University of Iowa, Brotherton said. But, the younger demographics are more likely to experiment and take risks, she said, thus creating a clientele for some of the so-called "designer drugs" the task force has encountered in the last year.
In 2009, the task force concluded its investigation into an ongoing "Molly" case. Mollies are powdered ecstasy taken in a pill form, Blomgren said. The investigation resulted in what Blomgren believes is the largest seizure of powder ecstasy and LSD in the history of Johnson County. A bulk of the 10,077 LSD dosage units and 4.01 kilograms of ecstasy seized by the task force in 2009 came from that case, Blomgren said.
"We have never seen that type of quantity of either (drug)," Blomgren said.
Another number that jumps out from the task force's 2009 statistics is 100,000 plus, indicating the number of wild marijuana plants the team destroyed in 2009. All of those plants were destroyed in one "field" and was one of the largest wild grows ever discovered, Blomgren said.
"It was unlike anything any of us had seen," he said, estimating some plants were 12' tall. "Some of them were like trees."
However, Blomgren said the marijuana -- "good old fashioned Iowa ditch weed" -- was not intentionally grown.
While the wild marijuana field was likely an innocent occurrence, Blomgren said the task force is noticing a disturbing trend in methamphetamine labs. While the number of labs has decreased from 28 in 2008 to 27 in 2009, Blomgren said more labs are being found within the city limits of Iowa City and North Liberty.
"It's both surprising and concerning because it does appear to be a trend," he said, noting there were four to five labs within Iowa City limits in 2009.
North Liberty Police Chief Jim Warkentin said his department has dealt with meth labs in the past, but earlier this year, North Liberty and task force officers uncovered five in a 2½ week period. All were part of a meth production ring, Warkentin said.
"I'm concerned that we're discovering them," Warkentin said. "But I'm glad we're discovering them and are able to deal with it and get it cleaned up."
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek attributes the increase in meth activity -- there was 1.258 kilograms seized last year -- to a new simplified method of producing the drug and to its highly addictive nature.
"Of course, it's demand driven," Pulkrabek said. "If the demand is there, people are going to take those risks to provide it."
Those risks were never more apparent than when an explosion in a car killed North Liberty resident Ronald Bowers in November. Police haven't released the official cause, but Pulkrabek said the explosion is suspected to have been caused by a mobile meth lab Bowers was traveling in.
While the task force has shut down the meth ring and put a close on the DMT and LSD cases, Pulkrabek said he doesn't believe that means the drugs are gone for good.
"I look at it as sort of an infection," he said. "Once a little bit of it is here, it will likely spread and grow. I'm not naïve enough to believe we're good enough here...to shut it all down. It's just not possible."
To combat this growing drug problem in Johnson County, Pulkrabek said both authorities and laws have to change and grow along with the drug culture of the community.
"I think by having the drug task force, that makes us proactive," he said. "The nature of law enforcement is reactive and we to force ourselves to be proactive. We continue to evolve and law enforcement will evolve and change as the conditions warrant."
Johnson County isn't entirely alone in the drug-related problems they face, however. Other regions of Iowa have a larger meth problem and cities as close as Cedar Rapids also have a number of drugs distributed on their streets.
"We've got just a wide variety," Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said, speaking for the department's narcotics unit.
However, Hamblin said Iowa City has long has a reputation of being a destination for drug use, mostly because of the university.
"It's a college community," Hamblin said. "That always makes a big difference."
According to the Iowa Division of Narcotics inforcment, drug trends in Johnson County are "consistent with other college communities in Iowa and surrounding states."
"Hallucinogenic drugs are typically more readily available in some college communities," DNE Director Kevin Frampton said in a statement.
Blomgren said the nature of Iowa City's population will force authorities to continue to adapt as new drugs continue to surface.
"I think people here are more open-minded to try something new," he said.
IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN
FEBRUARY 27, 2010
Dear Drugs-Forum readers: We are a small non-profit that runs one of the most read drug information & addiction help websites in the world. We serve over 4 million readers per month, and have costs like all popular websites: servers, hosting, licenses and software. To protect our independence we do not run ads. We take no government funds. We run on donations which average $25. If everyone reading this would donate $5 then this fund raiser would be done in an hour. If Drugs-Forum is useful to you, take one minute to keep it online another year by donating whatever you can today. Donations are currently not sufficient to pay our bills and keep the site up. Your help is most welcome. Thank you.
Drug 'infection' spreading in Johnson County