- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - A fire truck pulled up to a small, decrepit, one-story house on Hendricks Street, northeast of downtown Anderson.

Before long, three police cars blocked the front yard on the same lot. Several minutes later, police led five people in handcuffs out of the house. Even with a January arctic chill in the air, neighbors and curious passers-by gathered, trying to catch a glimpse of the commotion.

They already knew what had happened.

Another meth house had been raided.

As statistics in Madison County indicate, the impact of the illicit drug methamphetamine has devastated the community. In 2012, the county was labeled with a dubious distinction: No. 1 in the state for meth labs discovered and No. 2 in the country. Those numbers dropped in 2013, but the county still remained in the top seven in Indiana.

The numbers reflect a meth epidemic, as well as a commitment by prosecutors and law enforcement to battle the drug.

Houses like the one raided Jan. 28 on Hendricks Street epitomize neighborhoods where rundown or abandoned houses invite transient tenants to run illicit drug rings and produce dangerous substances like meth.

Because of the explosive probabilities that accompany cooking meth, property owners and insurance companies have no choice but to account for the dangers. Housing values fall, while insurance rates rise.

Madison County Drug Task Force officers estimate meth-related cases account for about 75 percent of their time on the job. Between Madison and Delaware counties, the Indiana State Police’s Meth Suppression Team battles two of the most meth-active counties in the country, The Herald Bulletin reported (http://bit.ly/1k5JIBu ).

County courts are tied up with meth-related charges, mostly manufacturing, possession of meth and possession of ingredients. Judges are left to decide whether to punish offenders or give them a chance in problem-solving drug court.

Meanwhile, a segment of the population dealing with addiction and legal issues creates an economic drain on a county already depressed for decades since the exodus of General Motors.

Local police and prosecutors believe they’re making a difference, and meth arrest numbers have dipped in recent months. After leading the state in lab seizures in 2012, Madison County’s number of lab busts dropped 36 percent in 2013.

But for many, namely children who grow up around meth-corrupted guardians, the damage has been done. It will stick with them the rest of their lives.

“It’s crazy. You hear people who talk about state pride in some places. We’re No. 1 in meth,” Joseph Wasson said. “That’s not exactly something you can be proud of.”

Wasson, who lives in the Hendricks Street block where the Jan. 28 raid took place, exaggerates, but he’s not too far off the mark.

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