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Fatal overdoses from meth rising across Puget Sound

TACOMA, Wash. – No doubt you’ve heard about the opioid epidemic that’s been hammering Western Washington – where thousands of people have become addicted to painkillers or heroin.

Police also say there is a direct connection between addiction and property crime.

But there’s another drug that’s been lurking in the shadows – it’s methamphetamine.

And while meth never really went away, more and more people are dying from overdoses while using it. Unfortunately, Pierce County has been getting hit the hardest.

In a recent article in The New York Times, an Oregon sheriff’s deputy described the differences between heroin and meth.

Heroin, he said, is a depressant, a downer that puts its users into a stupor. But meth is a stimulant that lowers an addict’s inhibitions – they’re also likely awake for days at a time, which could make burglaries more common.

Neighbors have tried to keep the bad guys out of their Tacoma neighborhood on South 43rd Street and Tacoma Avenue. But it’s what police say was happening inside one home in particular that shocked most of the neighbors.

“I couldn’t believe how huge it was and it used to be a day care,” said Patty Eberle.

“That’s a lot of people coming here that I don’t want them around here, that’s what it is,” said Taralyn Anderson.

According to court documents, Lakewood police and a Metro SWAT team found two people living inside the home on the 500 block of South 43rd Street. They  were found with guns, nearly $100,000 in cash, heroin, opioids – and more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine.

Neighbors also worry property crime in the area is somehow connected to the activity happening inside this home.

Anderson says her car was ransacked recently – she lives right next door to the alleged drug house.

“Realized the bag was missing with a wallet in it, phone chargers, gifts and bags,” she said. “Right out of my car.”

And, the number of methamphetamine-related fatal overdoses are also on the rise in Western Washington.

Since about 2003 to 2016, Snohomish County saw a more than 200% increase in fatal overdoses. In King County, they’re up 280%. And in Pierce County, a nearly five-fold increase in fatal overdoses for meth users – all in little more than a decade’s time.

“Thank God 20 pounds of meth is gone,” said neighbor Jeffrey Boyce.

For now, neighbors are breathing a sigh of relief since an alleged drug operation has been shut down.

But as long as meth is around, as with other drugs, property crimes could stick around, too.

“The behavior that you see from somebody addicted to opioids versus someone addicted to meth (is) very, very different,” said Tacoma Police Officer Loretta Cool. “Somebody on meth is, 'Yeah, I see it in the window, I’m going to kick in the door.'"