By Darrell Todd Maurina
Swallowing methamphetamine to keep law enforcement from finding it is common, according to Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher.
“We have that happen almost every time we come into a house where we are doing a raid,” Hatcher said. “If people think they can get it down before we notice, that’s what they’ll do.”
Unfortunately for the drug swallowers, their attempts to hide illegal meth stashes can turn possible felony charges for possession into a death sentence.
A Curry County jail inmate died early Sunday morning, about eight hours after law officers said he was arrested on charges of reckless driving and evading a police officer.
Police on Tuesday issued a report stating Martin Smith, 22, of Clovis, swallowed methamphetamine prior to his arrest. The report said Smith told jail officials at 4:18 a.m. on Sunday that he’d swallowed the drug. He was taken to Plains Regional Medical Center, where he died at 6:40 a.m.
His was the second death of a jail inmate who ingested drugs in about a year. One year ago today, Joyce Acy died after swallowing crack cocaine when she was arrested.
Hatcher said meth users who swallow the substance take tremendous medical risks in efforts to avoid felony charges. Possession of any amount of methamphetamine constitutes a felony under New Mexico law — and that can trigger serious legal consequences.
“Someone with previous felonies may be looking at conviction as a habitual offender,” Hatcher said. “The problem is when (a cellophane-wrapped meth bag) ruptures, there is absolutely nothing anybody can do to prevent them from having some kind of catastrophic results.”
Terry Tucker, an alcohol and drug treatment counselor at Mental Health Resources, said one reason meth users take such risks is because their mental functioning has become impaired.
“It can really eat up the brain because what it does is it increases the dopamine going to the brain,” Tucker said. “They can have hallucinations, feeling like bugs are crawling on them, vomiting, stomach cramps, insomnia, violent outbursts, serious weight loss. They can be totally confused, paranoid, real anxious.”
Tucker said even when people deliberately plan to carry drugs in their digestive systems and take precautions, overdoses and deaths can occur.
“If they swallow such a large quantity, it will just increase all the possible bad side effects,” said Tucker. “A lot of mules — people who transport drugs — have died of overdoses because they were transporting them in prophylactics or balloons or that sort of stuff.”
Tucker said meth overdose deaths typically involve cardiac arrests, massive strokes, or extreme body overheating caused by meth-induced blood pressure increases.
Hatcher said meth usage has become the major drug problem for area law enforcement. Just in the past week, the Region V Narcotics Task Force in Curry County has executed three narcotics search warrants, and most such warrants are for meth labs.
“The main traffic here now is meth, more than marijuana, cocaine, and definitely more than heroin or anything else,” Hatcher said. “You can give them treatment from now to forever, but if they don’t make up their mind they don’t want to do it anymore, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
Hatcher said swallowing meth isn’t the only thing meth users do that lacks logic.
“People need to understand meth alters their brain, alters the way they think, and they just don’t care,” Hatcher said.