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Indiana's Interactive Map Plots Meth Lab Data

A new online tool from the Indiana State Police gives prospective property renters and buyers a chance to see if their new home was once part of the state's biggest problem.

U.S. citizens are cooking meth everywhere, especially in the Midwest. The Indiana State Police (ISP) have known it for years and collected the data -- and now they’re sharing that data in an online map that shows thousands of red pins blanketing the state, 9,262 to be exact.

Visitors to the map, which launched June 24, can see where police found methamphetamine labs and dump sites, filtered by year -- or all years going back to 2007. Using Google Maps, the tool also allows Indiana residents to enter Street View and see what a meth house in their town looks like.

The map data comes from an ISP database, which is curated and exported to Indiana Interactive, the state’s technology agency, said Niki Crawford, commander of the ISP methamphetamine suppression section. Indiana Interactive uses Socrata as its publishing platform. “It’s a public safety issue for us,” Crawford said. “It’s just a matter of getting information out there so people can do their homework. If they’re wanting to buy a rental property or a home, it’s just a way to provide extra information and security for the public.”

Left: The Indiana State Police's interactive map shows just how prevalent meth labs are in the state.

Turning on the app’s heat map reveals the cities of Columbus, Evansville, Fort Wayne and Muncie have an especially large meth presence. But meth is being cooked almost everywhere in Indiana -- in hotel bathrooms, in homes, in garages, in cars and out in the open. According to the map, there were 1,568 incidents throughout the state in in 2013. To give an idea of what that looks like, there are about 2,500 gas stations in Indiana.

But the incidents that appear on this map are just a fraction of what’s actually happening.

Though the map shows mobile labs, dump sites and open air labs reported within the past seven years, there are roughly an additional 2,500 records that remain unpublished because of a law that requires the state to wait 180 days before publishing the location of any property lab. And if the property is cleaned within that time period, the state is not allowed to publish the location. Additionally, any labs cleaned after being published must be removed from the map within 90 days. The public can, however, still learn of the unpublished labs by directly contacting ISP or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The map allows the ISP to adhere to a new property sales bill, called House Enrolled Act No. 1141, that requires the state to disclose information about found methamphetamine labs and dump sites. But the ISP was creating the map before they even heard about the bill, Crawford said, adding that they wanted to get the data out somehow. “We’ve gotten several calls and emails," she said, "and there’s been a lot of news media coverage and it seems like people really like it."

Indiana is in the heart of meth country. The drug is cooked all around the U.S., but an infographic published by the Huffington Post that takes data from 2013 shows that the Midwest has the biggest presence by far -- because there are lots of farms, and that means it’s easy to get anhydrous ammonia, Crawford said, which is used in the cooking process.  In one year, Missouri reported 1,825 incidents, Tennessee 1,585 and Indiana 1,429, while New Mexico had 17 and Nevada had three.

Government is usually concerned about any illegal drug activity, but meth is a particularly harmful problem. The U.S. economy took an estimated $23.4 billion hit from meth use in 2005, according to a RAND Corp. study. The costs of supporting a nation’s 400,000 meth addicts come in the form of increased burden on institutions like the foster care system and the criminal justice system from losses in productivity and many other peripheral side effects that are difficult isolate.

In addition to cost, the labs are also dangerous, frequently injuring those who come into contact with them. Treating a meth lab burn victim costs an average of $230,000, and the most frequent age group of meth lab burn victims is younger than four years old.

Crawford’s unit works on meth cases full time, and publishing this map will free up some time for them to focus on their investigations. “We were regularly getting multiple calls on a weekly basis from real estate agents or  from home owners who had gone to look at a house and a neighbor walked over and said, ‘Hey, you know they were cooking meth in that house, don’t you?’" Crawford said. "Because we were already getting the inquiries, we felt like, gosh, what easier way than to put it at their fingertips where they can go in and search?”

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.