The seat of Lawrence County, Louisa is similar to many small towns in the rolling hills of Eastern Kentucky. Some of the nearby coal mines still operate, though many have been abandoned for years, their massive belt conveyor equipment left to rust amid scarred brown hillsides. But the downtown is well-kept and quiet, with few visible signs that it has been at the heart of a series of drug plagues.
Residents, however, say people addicted to meth are altering the town in ways both obvious and imperceptible.
Chris Wilson, a local pastor, said a close childhood friend had recently appeared at his church. The man had lost nearly half of his body weight since they had last seen each other. When his friend asked for a ride to the next county over, Mr. Wilson agreed, even though he suspected the man was looking for methamphetamine.
“I said, ‘David, I can get you help.’ He said, ‘You don’t understand. There is no help,’” Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Slone, the town’s mayor, said that although some residents of Louisa have acted with anger to the meth addicts in their midst, others have focused on trying to feed and clothe them and get them treatment.
But even charity comes with risks in the new environment. Rachel Wheeler, who operates a local food bank ministry, said volunteers now have to be far more cautious when making home deliveries, in case there’s a meth user in the house. Police officers have started escorting volunteers on some deliveries, or making the deliveries themselves.
Kimber Skaggs, who operates Kimber’s Country Market in nearby Blaine, Ky., said she had become adept at discerning the difference between customers who were high on pain pills and those on methamphetamine. Opioid users are often quiet and move and speak slowly, she said, while those on meth are often jumpy, scratch at their sores and behave erratically.