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      Behind the lines in the battle against meth

      It's no secret. Methamphetamine is a major problem in the Central and Western Upper Peninsula.

      Last year, over 60 people were prosecuted for meth-related charges in Marquette County. Three years ago, less than ten people were punished because of the drug. On Monday, U.P. law enforcement from the city, county, state, tribal and federal levels gathered in Marquette for the Specialized Methamphetamine Investigative Workshop. It involved over 80 people from 30 different agencies. It was funded by the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, part of the Department of Justice.

      Authorities want you, the general public, to keep a watchful eye out for meth dumpsites as they get outside this spring. The general public plays a major role in tipping officials about meth operations. Kevin Glazer, a retired sergeant from Missouri who was presenting at the workshop on Monday, said many people have a misconception about what they would expect to see at a meth lab dumpsite.

      "Maybe it's something that they relate to a high school lab or a pharmaceutical facility," said Glazer. "It's nothing like that. You're using very crude, easy to obtain products like mason jars and plastic tubing and funnels and kitchen utensils."

      Detective Sergeant Ronald Koski, the team leader of the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET), explained more about the products people use to manufacture meth.

      "Some people like Gatorade bottles, some like Mountain Dew bottles. Coleman fuel is usually the solvent of choice, you have to have a solvent, and then if you start seeing cut batteries, usually lithium, that's a big sign that...normal people don't cut their batteries in half," said Koski.

      On Monday, police learned how to safely handle these items. If the general public sees them, they should call 911 immediately.

      "A lot of the items don't look that dangerous because it's stuff that everybody has in their garage, but once these meth cooks start mixing it together, it creates ammonia gas, hydrochloric gas, and the lithium that gets exposed to the elements outside also causes fire," Koski added.

      Assistant U.S. Attorney Maarten Vermaat explained a reason for the increase in demand for locally-produced meth.

      "There have been some steps taken to cut off the supply from Mexico, and I think people have figured out, via the Internet and other means, how to make meth that's pretty potent locally and how to use the supplies that are found in the drug store, in the hardware store, starting with the Sudafed," said Vermaat.

      The U.S. Attorney's office is working together with county prosecutors to identify the worst-case targets and bring them to prosecution. Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese said that his office is seeking the toughest penalties including meth, for people that manufacture and/or distribute meth. Wiese added that there have already been 17 felony-level cases involving meth in Marquette County courts in the first four months of 2013.