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New Meth

The West Coast's drug of choice is becoming Cleveland's pet rock.

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Our snooty cousins on the coasts often mock the Heartland for its inability to pounce on the latest trend.

We were still paying a buck for coffee when we could have been paying six. We first thought angst was a new breed of cattle. And when FUBU arrived, we confused it for heightened interest in a Japanese baseball team.

Now we've come unfashionably late to yet another trend: methamphetamine. According to Cleveland police, meth accounts for only 1 percent of all narcotics arrests in the city. This, for the trend-conscious, is troubling news.

For years, meth has been the rage out West. The hippest people -- namely bikers, farm boys, and assorted white trash -- found it a "cheaper alternative to cocaine," says FBI Special Agent Robert Hawk. "It's a more intense and longer-lasting high."

Better yet, it's made from the active ingredients in solvents, drain cleaner, and fertilizer, making meth so easy to produce that it even arrived in the Third World (Iowa) years ago. "That's pretty much the drug of choice for the West Coast," says one DEA agent. "Just go across the Mississippi."

In Cleveland, however, the FBI is just starting to see occasional busts in the suburbs, according to Hawk. "We haven't seen a methamphetamine problem in the city of Cleveland."

Fact is, Akron has usurped us as the trendsetter of Northeast Ohio, registering 90 percent of the region's arrests, says the DEA's Jim Hummel. Even Mansfield, which is so unhip it should be in Utah, has seen "an unusually marked increase in crystal meth cases," according to police Captain Phil Messer. It also has a cool task force called METRICH; we don't even have a cheapass blue-ribbon commission.

And let us not forget our mercantile failings. Because meth can be easily made in a kitchen lab, it offers an attractive new paradigm shift within this descending economy. Yet Hummel says cops are busting only 10 to 15 labs a year, most of which are in Akron and many of which are discovered accidentally when police respond to domestic calls.

For Cleveland, the implications are clear: Not only does our legendary lack of entrepreneurship stretch all the way down the fertilizer-based ingestibles market, but we're not even keeping pace in spousal conflict. No wonder the rest of the country mocks us.

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