By Joel Warner
Published: June 28, 2007
The detectives asked about Vince, and the oldest boy said that his father was at the apartment building next door. They found him there, along with 26 grams of meth in a throat-lozenge container.
As the three children were handed off to representatives of the Adams County Social Services Department, Lopez read Miranda her rights, which she waived. Flustered and defensive, she admitted that she and Vince sold meth out of their home four to five times a day, making $20 to $50 per deal. She smoked meth, too, she said. Lopez asked if she realized what she was doing to herself, to her family. There was more to life than this - didn’t she see that? But it was impossible to know if any of that got through.
Lopez then talked to Vince, who was scruffy and skinny, with a goatee; Lopez was scruffy and built, with his long hair in a ponytail. Under different circumstances, in a different life, the two wouldn’t have looked out of place sitting down together for a beer. But now Vince said he sold meth to supplement his income - and used it himself. He was already on probation for a previous misdemeanor drug charge, so he was probably facing jail time. Vince seemed resigned to his fate, maybe ready to turn things around, but Lopez didn’t buy it. "When you have them at the jail, they’re willing to give up the world," he says. "In this instance, I just thought it was more of the same."
As a narc, it was Lopez’s job to find the drugs and bust the perps. He wasn’t operating a daycare center. The three kids might go to friends or relatives, but who knew if those new caretakers would be addicts? Or they could stay in the social-services system and bounce from one foster home to the next. Either way, they were just collateral damage in the drug war.
"So I dumped Vince off in jail and turned around and went home," Lopez remembers. "And that’s usually where it ends."
A Thornton narcotics detective assigned to the North Metro Drug Task Force, Goin didn’t know quite what to expect. He’d heard the horror stories about crazed meth-cooks and their paranoia, guns and booby traps. He knew something about the ingredients they use, a vile brew of cold pills, household solvents and acids, iodine, phosphorous, ammonia -- which, if inexpertly combined, can produce flash fires, deadly gases and toxic spills. But all of his training couldn’t prepare him for his first lab bust.
The target was an old barn on a 25-acre property in rural Adams County. Goin’s team found a fully automatic machine gun but no cook in progress; to their relief, the chemicals and glassware appeared to be neatly stored. What caught Goin’s attention, though, was the sink that the lab operator had used to dump his waste chemicals.
The sink wasn’t connected to the sewer system, and the waste simply oozed from a pipe outside -- near a well pump and a trampoline where kids played. It was easy to trace the discharge as it trickled down a hill to a catch-pond. All you had to do was follow the ever-widening kill path in its wake, a swath of bare ground where the surrounding weeds just stopped.
"Nothing would grow there," Goin recalls. "Nothing."
The scene was his first intimation that he was dealing with something beyond the grasp of conventional law enforcement. What kind of dipstick could so casually poison the land around him -- and possibly his children and his own water supply in the bargain?
Over the next three years, North Metro began to encounter meth labs with alarming frequency. The task force was soon hitting a couple a month, then one or two a week -- labs in apartments, motel bathrooms, cars. Goin was in on 35 or 40 of those busts. In almost every case, his protective gear consisted of a pair of latex gloves.
Goin saw pristine apartments turned into iodine-stained dumps, a once-tidy mobile home scarred by unreported fires. He saw kids scavenging for whatever food they could find after their parents had been passed out for days.
"It’s all about the meth," he says. "Kids get ignored, the property falls apart. Meth becomes their whole world."
At first, few people -- aside from the haz-mat teams that customarily made the initial entry -- gave much thought to the dizzying vapors that permeated the labs. Even after the joint had been aired out, you could smell the chemicals and sometimes taste them -- a sweet yet acrid smell, not unlike the odor of a hardware store stacked high with pesticides and fertilizer. Goin emerged lightheaded a couple of times. Other team members complained of headaches that lasted for days.
Goin saw one co-worker chase down a suspect and cuff him bare-handed. The cook’s clothing was saturated with chemicals; a few minutes later, the skin on the officer’s palms started blistering.
In time, Goin thought less about what the labs were doing to the weeds in Adams County. He began to worry about what they were doing to him.
Luke Stone’s parents know that isn’t true anymore. They didn’t realize the landscape of substance abuse has radically changed.
Today, kids Luke’s age swim in a sea of psychotropic pharmacology-pills, potions and powders legally prescribed for everything from depression to attention deficit disorder. When they want to get high, they’re more likely to turn to benzodiazepines, a class of drugs like Valium that treat anxiety and panic attacks. Instead of shooting heroin, they score synthetic opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid or Tylenol with codeine. To get a buzz or pull an all-nighter for an exam, they pop pills like Ritalin and Adderall, amphetamines that treat ADD.
It makes sense. You don’t have to find a drug dealer to get Xanax. You just have to rummage in Mom’s medicine chest. You don’t need to sneak around to score Adderall. A pediatrician prescribed it because you were driving your teachers crazy. Why not trade a few Adderall to your roommate, under the care of a psychiatrist for panic disorder, for some of his Xanax?
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