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City to combat meth crimes

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

A state police hazmat cleanup team sets up Tuesday at a residence at 86 Madison St. across from Parker Elementary School in Cortland. Police believe the fire started while methamphetamine was being made there.

A fire Monday night across from Parker Elementary School, which police say was caused by a meth lab explosion, has prompted plans to educate the public about the dangers of drugs and a call for action.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Brian Tobin announced city police and fire officials are planning a community meeting for residents to address concerns and to educate people on the serious problem of drug labs in the city.

Tobin said he wants to inform the public about incidents like the Madison Street fire and review how city departments reacted. The community will also have the chance to ask community officials questions and voice their concerns.
The exact location and date of the meeting has not yet been set.

The city recently passed its so-called clandestine drug lab law that calls for dwellings, where the meth labs are found, to be thoroughly cleaned and inspected before being reopened to the public, but more needs to be done, Tobin said.

While methamphetamine is believed to be the cause of the fire on Madison Street, Tobin said drugs in general are a big problem throughout the community. The drugs are causing problems not just for the people using, selling or making them, but also creates danger for residents of the same home and neighbors, Tobin said.

Tobin says he wants to work on being proactive versus being reactive.

The city fire department extinguished the fire late Monday in the attic of the house at 86 Madison St. City police and state police cleaning up the scene and investigated.

City police arrested John J. Rosen, 48, of 14 Port Watson St. and Pamela M. Lackner, 47, of 86 Madison St., for allegedly making meth in the house.

Drugs would not be a problem if it were not for the people who are taking, making and distributing them, Tobin pointed out.

“We need to find ways of prevention,” Tobin said.

The first step in prevention is focusing on educating the community, said Matt Whitman, coalition director of Cortland Area Communities that Care, the area agency that tracks and educates the public on substance use, abuse and addiction.
Whitman is using a $627,000 state grant to set up prevention programs, he said.

He acknowledged that a problem as multifaceted as drug use within a community will take time to solve.
“There is not going to be a silver bullet to fix this,” Whitman said. “It will take the entire community to find a solution.”

City Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said a big issue with the meth problem is the accessibility to equipment needed to make the drug. Most of the materials needed can be bought at the store.

Another problem not only in the community but, the state, is smurfing. Smurfing is the process of going from store to store to purchase large amounts of pseudoephedrine, Catalano said.

One way to combat the drug problem, especially meth, is make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug, Catalano said. There would have to be legislation mandating this change.

Deidre Plumley said there is no typical substance abuser.

Plumley, a chemical dependency counselor at Family Counseling Services of Cortland County, sees people from all walks of life come into Family Counseling Services for addiction treatment.

The reason for their addiction varies. Some people could have become addicted from using prescription medicine for a health issue or to cope with a mental illness, like depression, anxiety or trauma, she said.

“Nobody says, ‘My goal in life is to be a substance abuser,’” she said.

Family Counseling Services offers programs to help people with substance abuse, everything from short-term detoxification programs to outpatient recovery programs.

Staff reporter Tyrone Heppard contributed to this article.

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