Along with Three Rivers in St. Joseph County and most of Cass County, the Coldwater area had some of the highest number of methamphetamine arrests in Michigan for 2020.
Branch County Circuit Court Judge Bill O'Grady believes the information is misleading, since it does not match the large number of meth seizures in the state for the year.
In 2020, state lab had 86 samples from Branch County compared to 650 in Kalamazoo and 260 from St. Joseph County.
"I think that our county is very equal to other counties, when you look at our population, so I don't see a big spike," O'Grady said.
The difference may be that counties decide individually what justifies an arrest for meth-related crime.
Some county agencies will not arrest for seizures of items with meth residue. Branch County does.
"You've got to be careful of your stats and not getting too overzealous on thinking your high or your low," O'Grady said.
Meth is still the most prosecuted illegal drug in Branch County since 2019. About 50% or more of all Branch County felony criminal cases are meth-related, with the defendant addicted.
Prior to 2019, a lot of cases involved opioids, prescribed pain medication that led to addiction, abuse and sometimes heroin use.
State statistics show seizures fell for all drugs between 2019 and 2020, with exception of hallucinogens and meth. Meth was up 50% from 2019 to 2020.
Those other drugs are now rare.
"What had happened was the cost of methamphetamine dropped tremendously. And we have had an incredible amount," O'Grady said.
"When you look at the national statistics, and also in Michigan, you start to have crystal methamphetamine take over the main drug of choice," the judge said, as imports from Mexico increased.
Crystal meth reduced the frequency of one danger: exploding meth labs. Prior to 2015, there was always several local "one-pot cook" meth labs found or that exploded in Branch County each year. Since then, such incidents are rare.
The cost of buying the cold medication used to "cook" the meth is more than the cost of prepared crystal meth.
Prosecutor Zack Stempien has prosecuted meth possession even for trace or residue amounts, often reducing charges to four-year felony from the typical 10.
Michigan sentencing guidelines for meth possession of small amounts usually require three or more convictions to send a defendant to prison on meth charges. Prison often comes after a defendant fails to complete numerous treatment programs and options.
O'Grady said meth addiction hurts the safety of the community.
"Drug addiction or the drug use is not isolated to the defendant," he said. "We are seeing drug addicts commit larcenies. We are seeing drug addicts in our homes randomly in the middle of the night. We've also had defendants in the past that tell us that methamphetamine actually increases their desire for sexual behavior." That has led to rape in some cases, he said.
Last week, Leonard Ledford Jr., 40, faced O'Grady in court after pleading guilty to possession of meth. He had an eighth of an ounce when arrested by a Michigan State Police in May. O'Grady talked to Ledford about his start with marijuana in 2005, after which Ledford started using pain medication.
"I won't even do Advil," Ledford said. "That was my biggest demon: morphine pills. I was sick if I took them, and sick if I didn't."
Ledford said he never had the intent to be a junkie. Turning to meth" will drag you in and hold you there," he said.
Ledford has been drug-free since he was jailed in May. He is on probation for 18 months and will have a chance to complete treatment, which he said he wanted. His case will be part of the 2021 Branch County statistics.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: Branch County 2020 meth stats up but misleading