Is Clare County Really the “Meth Capital” of Michigan?

By Anna McNeill

A Google search of the term “meth busts in Clare County, Michigan” turns up a long list of some 86 headlines from outlets across the state. “Clare County trio charged with operating meth lab,” (ABC 12), “Meth Lab Bust in Clare County,” (9&10 News), “Four arrested in Farwell in home invasion and meth lab bust,” (The Morning Sun), are just the first few the list stretches for pages.

Welcome to Clare County

Clare County, which includes the cities and villages of Harrison, Clare, Farwell, Lake, Dodge City and Lake George (View Clare County, Michigan), has a reputation of being a hot bed of methamphetamine production and distribution. The reality appears different, with Clare County reporting about the same number of meth arrests for its population as other areas of the state.

Lab Break Down by Surrounding Counties

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration recorded seven registered labs in its National Clandestine Laboratory Register for Clare County from 2006 to 2012, four in Harrison, one in Clare and two in Lake. Compared to Gladwin County’s three registered labs from 2005 and 2011, Midland County’s five registered labs from 2011 to 2014, Mescota County’s three registered labs from 2012 to 2013, Oscola County’s four registered labs from 2004 to 2014 and Isabella County is close, with eight registered labs from 2005 to 2013, Clare County isn’t that far off.

*See map (View Clandestine Laboratory Register in Clare County for the locations of the seven registered labs in Clare County.

The counties in Michigan with the highest numbers of registered labs are Allegan County with 52 register labs from 2004-2014 and the true “meth capital” of Michigan, Kalamazoo County, with 342 registered labs from 2004 to 2014 (

“It’s an ongoing issue in Michigan,” Det. Lt. Mark Urbie of the Michigan State Police said. “Michigan State Police and other agencies are trying to fight and do our best to eliminate the meth problem, it’s a fight that we keep on fighting every day.”

This Year's Meth Trend

Clare County Sheriff’s Department Detective Daniel Kennedy said Clare County is in a plateau affect in terms of methamphetamine busts.

After nine years with the Clare County Sheriff’s Department with a two year break as a Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (BAYANET) officer for the area, Kennedy has seen his share of trends in the cycles of meth busts and arrests in Clare County.

“It has to do with the access and the increase in prices,” Kennedy said. “There are defiantly ups and downs, it goes through cycles.”

Last year, Clare County had a total of eight meth busts and six arrests said BAYANET officer Andrea LaLone. Compared to all the hype that Clare County gets about its meth use and distribution, only eight busts and six arrests in a whole year doesn’t seem like much.

“That’s about accurate,” Kennedy said. “We don’t see it as bad in cities like Saginaw; it’s more focused in rural areas like Clare County. Probably more accurate would be triple that with the active meth cooks who aren’t caught.”

The Public's View

Alethea Jones, 27, from Clare County, said she has heard stories of meth busts “at least once a month around here.”

“Not to mention, you can go into most stores and see someone who is clearly under the influence of something stronger than pot,” Jones said.

Jones has not only witnessed people in the area who “appear” to be under the influence of something strong, but she has also been the victim of a break-in that police said was meth-related.

“We had our home broken into and a laptop stolen a year or so back,” Jones said. “The cops did find the woman who did it, they told my husband and me that she was a (on meth) and from the looks of her mug shot, they were right.”

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that takes more and more doses to continue getting a high once users have built up a tolerance. With the necessary increase in amounts taken, users who become highly addicted not only need more and more of the drug to get their fix, but that also means they need more and more money to buy it.

Roscommon County resident, Torrie Schmidt, 22, has heard a lot of the rumors of Clare County as the infamous meth haven in her job as a convenience store cashier in Harrison.

“I know of quite a few people who have had run-ins with people using their summer cabins as meth labs,” Schmidt said. “I had a lady from downstate tell me they were up here building a new cabin, because their previous one was burnt down because people were using their place for a lab and to cover their tracks, they torched it.”

Schmidt also has heard from working with residents from around the area that the drug is very easy to get a hold of in Clare County.

Knowing the Signs

With minimal arrests and busts last year, Urbie said that methods of cooking meth have changed over the years. It is easier for cooks to make meth without the ammonia smell that was a key tip off for local police in years past. Now the “one pot” method uses minimal ingredients that can be bought at local drug and hardware stores, and is literally cooked in one “pot” or bottle and takes only 45  minutes to finish cooking.

Catching the Cooks

Police and drug enforcement teams check over the ephedrine data base, to see how often and in what amounts people buy medication with ephedrine as an ingredient. In July of 2011 Governor Snyder signed the Senate Bill 333 and House Bill 4749 which were enacted to reduce the use of medication with ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as ingredients to be used in the production of meth. The Michigan Pharmacists Association (MPA) explained that as of January 1, 2012 “purchases of medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine will be required to produce an ID and have their names entered into a law enforcement database.”

This means that each time local retails who sell pharmaceuticals are required to document who buys medication with these key ingredients to making meth. When the information gets send into the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) it is then administered by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI). The retailers are also not required to pay a fee for using these services, as legislation mandates.

This database also generates alerts to notify the sellers of pharmaceuticals if a buyer has violated the quantity limits set by state regulations and the Federal Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005. 

There has been a limit set and those going over those limits, 3.6 grams per day or 9 grams per month could be using the medication as an ingredient to cook meth.

Urbie said that in 2006 there was a drop in busts and arrests and then in 2007 when the one pot method caught on there was more of an increase.

Rankings by State

In 2013, Urbie reported, Michigan ranked No. 8 in the nation for most meth labs.

In 2012 Michigan ranked No. 9 in most meth labs according to Methamphetamine Lab Incident reports through the DEA (  Michigan had a total of 492 total meth lab incidents, including labs, dumpsites, and chemical and glassware seizures. Number 1 from 2012 was Missouri with 1,825 meth lab incidents.

“It’s a tricky question,” Urbie said, “because some states, it gets so expensive to clean up meth labs, so some states, they may not be counting all their labs.”

Surveying the Area

A survey put out by the Cleaver about meth received 25 responses from local residents. The questionnaire asked what they believe meth use is really like in Clare County.

All 25 community members responded saying that they knew it was an awful drug and that it is prevalent in Clare County.

Lorie Hewitt, 50 of Clare County, has dealt with the drug first hand, having an ex who was a user and she now believes is in jail because of their addiction.

“I’ve heard that people in the Harrison woods were making it and that the person ended up moving out of state,” Hewitt said. “I still think there are a lot of users here.”

Tana Spicer, 28 of Clare County has also had run-ins with meth use all her life.

“My mom and dad were very addicted and sold meth,” Spicer said. “I (have) seen my mom and dad on it when I was younger.”

As a direct care worker and a mother, Spicer said that she has never and will never do drugs because “my daughter’s life is too important.”

It is an addiction that affects families and some addicts cannot break free.

Brenda Hillard, 35 of Clare County has seen a family member follow the path of addiction.

“My (family member) lost  kids due to addiction and lack of taking responsibility for a issue (they) put (themselves) in. (They) have been in and out of rehab for most of the last 25 years, and cannot seem to break the cycle.”

A Never-ending Cycle

With meth busts at a plateau and tutorials of how to cook meth easily accessible online, Urbie predicts that use and cooking will increase since there is no longer the need for one cook to pass on tricks of the trade to a new cook, it’s all available online.

Those same strokes that can lead potential meth cooks to hundreds of how-to videos can also easily bring up the headlines of news outlets from around the state, when cooks and labs are shut down.

“Update: Neighbors Tip Led to Meth Bust,” (MI News 26), “Officers find mobile meth lab during traffic stop,” (CBS46 News), “Three arrested, two children taken, for meth lab suspicion,” (MI NBC News).

When asked if there is a big problem in Clare County, Urbie said, “Any amount of meth is a big problem.”