An HBO documentary highlighting a Clinton family caught up in a methamphetamine addiction reveals that along with its local impact, Operation Ice Storm also played a large role in delving into the drug trade from the U.S. to Mexico.
"Ice Storm started at the very bottom levels," 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force Director Johnny Sowell said. "Using wire taps, we tracked the source from Arkansas … to Mexico."
"Meth Storm," which aired for the first time on HBO on Monday, closely follows the Converse family of Clinton. The film exposes the viral spread of methamphetamine in rural Arkansas communities, specifically highlighting Van Buren County.
Some viewers said that while they were aware drugs were a local issue, they did not realize how severe the problem was on a local level.
"It was really sad and heartbreaking," Faulkner County resident Jodie Leigh said after viewing the documentary. "I knew it was a problem in Arkansas, but never realized it was that bad."
While she said she’s sad to know more of the reality behind the methamphetamine trade in Van Buren County, which neighbors Faulkner County, Leigh said it’s important to bring awareness to the issue and that "Meth Storm" did just that.
"It’s good that it’s being noticed, although I’m sad people will look at Arkansas in a [negative] way," she said. "I knew it was a problem in Northern Arkansas, but not in Conway. It’s just not something you really see unless you’re around it."
Leigh said she hopes more recovery options will become available to those suffering from addiction.
Recalling the events that happened to Teddy Converse in the film, Leigh said she hopes for a better life for children who are born into families of heavy drug use.
The film crew intently follows Teddy and his mother, Veronica. Teddy is in-and-out of jail for drug-related charges, spending years away from his children as he serves prison time for his drug-related crimes.
"There needs to be more recovery options," Leigh said. "You see [Teddy] going to jail three times, and he always went right back to the same habits. We need to offer more treatment options [and] keep working toward helping families like that."
Ayisha Miller of Conway Counseling and Wellness Center said a new branch is expected to open on Shake Rag Road in Clinton across from Dr. Jose Abiseid’s Family Practice Center in mid-January.
The opening was not planned in coordination with the airing of "Meth Storm" but instead was in correlation to the need for more services in the area, Miller said.
"We didn’t have a clue about the film," she said. "We’ve already been serving for one day a week for the past few months and knew there was a need to provide more mental health services."
On-site therapists will be able to assist individuals with a variety of treatment options, which are necessary to a successful recovery outside of rehab, Miller said.
"[Rehab] is just one step when you think of a lifetime of sobriety," she said. "We will help you figure out how to live the rest of your life sober."
She said several factors need to be addressed including family life and history along with finding the root of one’s addiction.
Sowell said the results of Operation Ice Storm revealed the issue involved more than just Central Arkansas.
After viewing the documentary, it’s easy for viewers to believe the issue rests in Van Buren and Faulkner counties.
"However, our area is no different than any other area in the state," he said.
Operation Ice Storm began in July 2012 and continues today. What started out as a local impact case turned into a larger operation to track the source of methamphetamine in Central Arkansas, breaching out to Ohio, Washington, Georgia and California.
Throughout the operation, nearly 100 suspects have been arrested thus far, including some out-of-state suspects. Sowell said the source has been identified, and local authorities are waiting to indict him from Mexico. At this time, his identity cannot be released.
Operation Ice Storm received national recognition for the efforts local law enforcement put in to sourcing methamphetamine and heroine distribution in Central Arkansas. The operation was awarded at the United States Interdiction Coordinator (USIC) 2016 Awards for best investigation and prosecution of the year.
Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac said he agrees with fighting a problem by finding its source.
He said he does not look differently at his city following the film’s debut.
While he has not personally viewed the documentary, McCormac said he is aware of the local drug problem.
"Meth is basically everywhere," he said, noting he believes offering treatment is important and giving those who have found themselves tangled in the drug trade the opportunity to change their lives is crucial. "Give someone a chance. I still agree with that … try to stop and break the cycle. The best way to do that is through churches. If you seriously want to change, that’s the best group to be around."