As the opioid problem exploded into an epidemic hundreds of thousands of overdoses strong, first paralyzing and then mobilizing health agencies across the country, methamphetamine seemed like a disappearing problem. Negligible.
The meth Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force director Chris Conners and other members of his task force found most often then was "dirty" meth, he said Thursday night: Brown, home-cooked and weak.
Starting around 2016, the same task force members began to see "ice:" Purer, lighter and far more dangerous. As public attention shifted toward opioids, meth prices dropped and use increased. Conners found it in cities, suburbs and small, rural towns.
By November, his group had seized several pounds of the stuff and anticipated more, larger batches incoming.
"The people involved in drug distribution at the higher levels, i.e. the cartels, they have a pretty effective business model," he said. "Since everyone is paying attention to heroin and fentanyl -- and they should because people are dying -- (the cartel thinks) maybe they can switch to something else."
If meth is cheaper than opioids, it is no less deadly. Austin Fausz, who lives in Northern Kentucky, spends some days picking needles off the ground with his brother to ensure children don't grab them instead. He's seen friends who once used heroin make the switch to meth and succumb quickly.
"Only thing I can say is, 'Go to rehab. Get clean,'" he said.
Josh Emig, another Northern Kentuckian, has heard the stories and watched the problem grow. Like trends in fashion, music and movies, patterns in drug use can seem cyclical -- he remembers the end of the aughts and the meth problem in his state then.
This, though, seems more severe than what he remembers.
"It's really grown and spiraled out of control now," he said. "Every year, it seems to get worse and worse."