TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) -- State police shut down more than 1,200 illegal drug labs -- nearly all of them methamphetamine labs -- last year as Indiana's meth scourge continued to mount in rural areas.
"We don't see any end in sight," State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Phelps said.
The latest in a long string of arrests in Clay County came Monday night, when the Clay City Police Department arrested Timothy Johnson and Tracy Hines of 911 Main St. on charges of Dealing Methamphetamine, possession of Meth, possession of anydrous with intent to manufacture, maintaining a common nuisance, reckless possession of paraphernalia, possession of precursors and neglect of a dependent child.
The department was assisted by the Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Indiana State Police.
Figures released this week by Indiana State Police show that investigators shut down 1,260 drug labs last year -- up 26 percent from the 998 raided in 2002.
Phelps said that since state police began busting clandestine drug labs in the mid-1990s an increase in such busts has been recorded each year. Just six were found in 1996.
"Every year has been a record," he said.
Many of the labs have been found in rural western and southwestern Indiana, where police last year found 108 meth labs in Vigo County -- the most of any Indiana county.
Detective Greg Ferency of the Vigo County Drug Task Force estimates that authorities find only about one-third of the labs that exist.
"I don't know if we're physically cable of doing more," Ferency told the Tribune-Star for a story Wednesday.
Clay County Sheriff Rob Carter said he believed the increase in drug lab busts was due in part to growing public awareness of the labs. He said most of labs found in Clay County were abandoned by meth "cooks" on the run.
The phenomenon of making the drug in a remote location and tossing the remnants out a car window has become more common as police continue their crackdown, Ferency said.
Particularly alarming is the increase in the number of children found at meth labs, law enforcement officials said.
Across the state, police reported 66 children affected by the illegal labs in 2001. That number jumped to 162 in 2002 and then to 196 for last year, although the latest numbers available for that category date from late November.
Mike Shelton, an addictions counselor in Rockville, estimated that about 85 percent of inmates who enroll in the jail-run treatment program he oversees were incarcerated because of meth.
"Every possible means is being used to combat this, yet it continues to grow," he said.
Vigo County Judge Michael Eldred sees a steady stream of haggard men and women who appear in handcuffs and orange jail-issued outfits in his courtroom.
"It's just an insidious, dangerous drug. I've never seen anything like it in my experience in the criminal justice system," said Eldred, who has been a judge for 23 years.
Lonnie Orndorff, a 25-year-old methamphetamine user, has been held at the Vigo County Jail's addiction treatment area on firearms and public intoxication charges since June. By the time of his arrest, he was gaunt and paranoid of imaginary men.
"I was killing myself from the inside out," Orndorff said. "I didn't realize what I was losing until it was too late."