Numbers compiled by the Associated Press indicate a resurgence in the number of meth labs being discovered across the country, but local authorities said meth lab discoveries continue to decline, even as more meth is found on the streets.Methamphetamine lab seizures rose nationally in 2011, further evidence the powerfully addictive and dangerous drug is maintaining a tight grip on the nation’s heartland.
Missouri regained the top national spot for lab seizures in 2011 with 2,096, the AP confirmed through the survey that also found Tennessee was second with 1,687, followed by Indiana with 1,437, Kentucky with 1,188 and Oklahoma with 902.
Combined, the numbers indicate nationwide meth lab seizures rose at least 8.3 percent in 2011 compared with 2010.
While seizures are up nationwide, they actually dropped in southwest Iowa.
Council Bluffs Police Sgt. Robert Christensen, who oversees the Southwest Iowa Narcotics Task Force, said meth lab seizures in the three counties covered by the task force – Pottawattamie, Harrison and Mills counties – actually decreased between 2010 and 2011.
Six labs were found in 2010 compared to just three in 2011. Christensen said the continued effort of pharmacies and stores to track the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine has kept the number of meth labs down.
“The pharmacies in the area all work together to register the dosages,” he said. “If it’s harder to buy pseudoephedrine, it’s harder to make meth.”
While it may be more difficult to make meth, the amount of meth taken off the street by the task force grew tenfold between 2010 and 2011.
In 2010, the task force seized or purchased just less than one pound of meth. In 2011, that number grew to 10.4 pounds with a street value of more than $590,000.
Experts blame the continued increase on the drug’s addictiveness and the growing popularity of the meth-making shortcut known as “shake-and-bake,” in which the drug is concocted quickly in a soda bottle. The method results in smaller labs, but more of them.
Even when it comes to “shake-and-bake” labs, also referred to as the “one-pot method,” Christensen said he has not heard of any recently being discovered in Council Bluffs.
“If the uniform guys run into one, we are always notified, and that just hasn’t happened in a while,” he said.
Clandestine meth labs are most common in the Midwest and South. U.S. users who don’t make the drug themselves get it from Mexico, but experts say the drug made in homemade labs is more addictive than the often-diluted product that crosses the border.
“When they’re manufacturing it locally they’re making the purest form and the strongest form they can make,” said Sgt. Niki Crawford of the Indiana State Police Meth Suppression Team.
Missouri had been the nation’s No. 1 meth-producing state every year from 2003 to 2009 until falling behind Tennessee for one year. In 2011, a single Missouri county had more busts than Texas, Florida and California combined. Jefferson County, which is near St. Louis, tallied 253 seizures; the three states had 219.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull attributed the state’s consistently high seizure rate to law enforcement agencies’ focus on addressing the meth problem.
Police in many Missouri counties stake out pharmacies and watch for “pill shoppers” who go from store to store to purchase decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, a vital meth ingredient, now that tighter state restrictions have limited how much of the product they can buy in one place at one time. Many Missouri agencies also have officers focused solely on meth.
“Is Missouri that much worse or does Missouri just take a more aggressive approach? I think Missouri law enforcement just aggressively deals with the issue,” Hull said.
At least three-quarters of meth made in the U.S. is now believed to come in small “shake-and-bake” batches due to the pseudoephedrine sales crackdowns. In some states, the figure is even higher.
“I would comfortably say 99 percent,” said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
The AP’s tally of the top meth states is unofficial because while the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) compiles meth lab seizure data, some states are slow to report complete figures and final data for 2011 won’t be made public until mid-year, said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.
However, the Missouri State Highway Patrol has access to the preliminary EPIC lab seizure data and provided it to AP this week.
That EPIC data showed Illinois sixth in lab seizures with 584. The remainder of the top 10 were: Iowa (382), Michigan (352), North Carolina (340) and South Carolina (265).