Tim Sholander, team commander of UPSET, presents a program about drugs and UPSET at West Iron County High School June 18.
IRON RIVER—The centerpiece of Tim Sholander’s UPSET presentation June 18 was “the Faces of Meth.” It was a horror show.
“The Faces of Math” is a slide show with before and after photos of methamphetamine users. The “before” shots show reasonably healthy young adults.
After? Like we said, it’s a horror show. They look thin and gaunt and wasted. Like zombies. Sores on their faces from scratching after the imaginary creatures under their skin. Sunken eyes. It’s like they are aging at 10 times the normal rate.
There are many ways to throw away your life, but this has to be one of the ugliest.
Sholander, a detective lieutenant and team commander of UPSET, gave a presentation about UPSET June 18 at the West Iron County High School commons. It closely follows a pair of local drug-related incidents.
On May 8, some alert adults spotted some of the commonplace items used to make meth in two Iron River city parks. On May 21, state and federal agents conducted a drug bust in the Iron River area, arresting six people involved in the delivery/sale of heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs. Their cases are before the courts now.
“Since we made these arrests,” Sholander said, “I’ve been getting a ton of phone calls, and that’s great.” He said more arrests can be expected.
Sholander’s presentation barely touched on marijuana—in 2008, state voters approved medical marijuana for those with “a qualifying debilitating medical condition.”
“What I see with users of medical marijuana and marijuana,” Sholander said, “is that they use it and they abuse it.” That, he said, leads them on to try harder drugs.
UPSET covers all the U.P. except the far eastern end, which is covered by another agency. “A lot of area to cover and not enough guys.”
Sholander’s UPSET presentation, which is often done for schools, is intended to increase awareness of drug problems. He talked about the various illegal drugs—cocaine, heroin, synthetic marijuana (“Spice”), bath salts, prescription drugs--and described their effects and how they affect everyone
“Heroin is a huge problem over here,” Sholander said. “Probably more than you know. Probably more than you want to know.” Iron County, he said, has a heroin problem, “and it’s turning into an epidemic.” He linked its increased use to the skyrocketing price of prescription painkillers, like OcyContin.
Cocaine/crack is a problem, too. Like heroin, users become highly dependent on it and desperate for their next fix—and the money to pay for it.
“Sixty to 70 percent of the crimes out there are drug-related,” he asserted, according to State Police officials.
He sprinkled many personal anecdotes in his talk and talked about cases he has been involved with. He walked the audience through how meth is made. One slide showed a pop or sports drink bottle. “That’s all they need to make it. That and a few chemicals. It takes 45 minutes, an hour and a half at the most.”
Back when methcathinone was the rage, makers needed a full chemistry set. But the ingredients to make meth are much the same: pseudoephedrine, solvents, lithium metal, sodium hydroxide (lye) and ammonium nitrate, among others.
“The worst part about this: They can make this quick and leave dump sites and hazardous material all over the place.” It costs from $6,000 to $10,000 to clean up a meth site.
The last part of Sholander’s program was a pitch for UPSET--especially persuading local governments to find money from their shrinking budgets to help fund UPSET’s operations. “Our funding is kind of scary,” he said.
UPSET costs $180,000 to run each year, he said, and the state does not fund the program: The State Police, which oversees UPSET, only provides six officers, four vehicles and $3,000 for expenses.
“I can’t do a lot with four vehicles when I have 12 guys on my team. I got to pay $80,000 a year just in vehicle costs.” UPSET gets some funding from grants, corporations and county and city governments. Sholander said his agency complements what local departments can do—UPSET can do some things local officers can’t, he said, and vice versa.
“If every community, every county, every township gave just a little bit, I can keep operating.” Fund-raising help from the local community really helps—for one thing, it gives him more of a chance to get out in the field.
One former law officer who spoke noted that there were once 24 officers on the west side of Iron County. Now, the State Police post has closed, Iron River is down to three officers, and Caspian has a three-quarter position. “We went from 24 to less than four officers,” he summarized. “What’s wrong with that picture?”
Another said “The elderly people look the other way because they’re afraid. Justifiably so. But don’t be afraid: Fear will kill you.” Another urged a Neighborhood Watch program.
Sholander said his goal is not to arrest all the drug users: It’s to get those who supply and distribute the drugs, “who are really causing the problem.”
“I need your help in pointing out some of those people who really have the problems, so they can point me to who the dealers are. That’s what law enforcement needs, in general, to work.”
The UPSET tip line is 906-346-9289. Tips can be left anonymously. “I just need the information so I can help you guys out,” said Sholander. “It’s hard when we don’t get any phone calls.”