Evidence of methamphetamine's pervasiveness is hiding in plain sight on the shelves of some businesses. You may know about Sudafed, a main ingredient of meth production, and the campaign to move it under lock and key. Several chain stores already have removed it from shelves voluntarily, and states and the federal government are working to reclassify the decongestant as a prescription-only drug.
But what you may not have noticed are the cute little glass vases and "souvenir" tubes and even glass pens that can be conveniently transformed into pipes for smoking meth.
Rory Planeta, who investigates drug cases for the Tri-Net Task Force, described something called a "Mystic Vase" that can be purchased for $2.79 at some convenience stores and seems perfectly designed to be used as a glass pipe.
Of course, drug users can turn lots of everyday items into paraphernalia. A piece of aluminum foil will do the trick, if necessary.
But some products seem to be made with transformation in mind, and store clerks aren't stupid when it comes to who's buying them.
Planeta, who sometimes works undercover and dresses to fit the part, told about being in a local convenience store one day and asking out of curiosity, "Do you sell pipes?"
"No, we don't sell pipes," the clerk replied. "But a lot of guys who look like you buy this." The clerk then took him to a display of little vases.
"They know what they're selling," Planeta said.
How to spot drug paraphernalia was among the tidbits of information Planeta dispensed this week at meetings hosted by Partnership Carson City, the coalition working to rid the community of meth. (There will be another one at 6 p.m. Monday at Eagle Valley Middle School.)
Much of this discussion is aimed at parents, but there's plenty of information of interest to anyone who cares about trying to curb meth use and sales.
Brian Reedy's media students at Carson High School will be working on an anti-meth campaign aimed at young people. Another group the coalition, of which I'm a member, intends to target for informational meetings is business owners and landlords.
Maybe they don't know what's going on under their noses. Maybe they just need to know what to do about it. Or maybe they need a bit of persuasion from the sheriff, the district attorney or the mayor.
They'll be working on ideas like refining the city's nuisance ordinances to be able to put pressure on the people who own houses, apartments or motels where meth is prevalent.
A much better course, obviously, is cooperation. Sheriff Kenny Furlong says he can provide managers of a large apartment complex with regular reports on which units get repeated attention from his deputies. Then the managers can address the problems themselves.
Furlong and Mayor Marv Teixeira also talked about a motel manager who took the initiative to clear his place of meth users. Sheriff's calls to the motel have decreased dramatically.
There are also avenues to be explored that don't necessarily involve law enforcement. For example, lots of manufacturers and casinos require drug tests before they'll hire someone. Anyone who fails the test is told to hit the road. Is there some way to direct them toward counseling and treatment - voluntarily, before they wind up in jail?
Same thing with random drug testing of employees. If they test positive, you can fire 'em. Can you also head them down a road toward recovery?
The hardcore view is to write these people off. Who needs 'em? They brought these problems on themselves by getting addicted to meth. Let 'em figure it out for themselves - or lock 'em up and keep them away from the rest of us.
Well, it was pretty clear at the meeting Tuesday evening at Bordewich Bray Elementary School that these people are worth our best efforts. Three people in the audience admitted to being former meth addicts. They know what it did to themselves, their friends, their families and their children.
And they know how hard it was to turn it around.
"I had to get down on my knees," said one woman, who credited a newfound faith in God with her transformation. "I was pretty hopeless. To see your child go through it is horrible."
Planeta, for his part, said he's had many meth users and dealers thank him for being the guy who busted them. They needed someone to yank them out of the downward spiral.
Beyond the tweakers, though, are all the innocent people - and children - they had taken down with them. "That's why I'm passionate about drug enforcement," Planeta said, "not because I want to arrest everybody."
And for Furlong, who's seen meth take a bite out of his own family, writing them off really isn't an option.
"There's no such thing as a lost cause," he said.
n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1221.