Kirksville, Mo. – Missouri has something of a dynasty going, but it’s not a leadership role to be proud of.
Headlines such as “Missouri reigns as America’s meth king,” “Missouri is America’s methiest state,” and “Missouri claims name of top-meth maker” have popped up annually since 2003, with the lone exception of 2010 when Tennessee took the crown of shame.
Missouri may lose that race to the bottom again in 2013, with figures through October showing it trailing Illinois and just ahead of Tennessee in “methamphetamine incidents” reported.
While those numbers are alarming and should serve as a call to action, they are often misinterpreted as a representation of the amount of meth in a given area. The reality is much more complex and likely far different than any report can compile.
What is a meth incident
Contrary to what is often said in media reports about meth, these figures tell nothing about the quantity of meth “seized” or labs “busted.”
A reported “incident” can represent a variety of things. A bust at a single location where three dozen active “one pots” are discovered, a bust with one “shake-and-bake,” and a roadside discovery of an empty soda bottle that tests positive for having helped make meth would each count equally as one “incident.”
There is no comprehensive database regarding the amounts of meth seized.
Within the “incident” definition, Missouri has led the way with a high point reached at 2,860 incidents in 2003 (including 57 in Adair County).
The federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act was enacted in 2006, moving all over-the-counter PSE products behind pharmacy counters, setting daily and monthly limits and requiring identification for purchases and logs of all purchases be kept by pharmacies.
Missouri, which had already passed some anti-meth laws prior to the CMEA, saw a massive drop in meth lab incidents reported in 2006, falling to 1,284 (nine in Adair County).
After remaining level through 2007, numbers ticked upward statewide and surpassed 2,000 incidents in 2011. Reported incidents were down slightly in 2012 (1,985). Data for 2013 is only available through October, though incidents were on pace for their lowest totals since 2009.
That hasn’t been the case in Adair County, where the 2013 report already includes 55 incidents. That’s the highest since 2003 and has spurred action with the proposed ordinance to require prescriptions for PSE-drug purchases in Kirksville.
Other areas of the state have also seen a resurgence in meth incidents, with an exception in northwestern Missouri. In 2003, the 15 counties that comprise the Patrol’s Troop H region reported 183 incidents. In 2012 they reported just four and they’ve reported eight in the incomplete 2013 numbers.
Buchanan County (county seat St. Joseph) reported 42 incidents in 2003, dropped to six in 2006 and has remained at or below that number in recent years.
But that number doesn’t correlate to an eradication of methamphetamine, says Cpt. Mike Donaldson of the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily good news,” he said. “It is good news we have fewer labs because they’re dangerous. The manufacturing process, so many things go wrong, with toxic fumes, explosions.
“But we have not had a decrease in meth.”
Buchanan County and the rest of that Troop H region are dealing with a different problem. Rather than “home-grown” meth the region has seen an increase in imported meth from superlabs in Mexico. Donaldson said the meth is driven north along Interstate 35 and distributed as part of a massive drug trafficking organization that includes cocaine, heroin and other illegal substances.
Grundy County Sheriff Rodney Herring agreed. After 34 reported meth incidents in 2003, his county reported just one in 2011 and none in 2012. He said his region’s Nitro Task Force hit meth makers hard, often bringing about federal charges for manufacturing meth and weapons possession.
Those who weren’t caught, he believes, turned from meth making to purchasing.
“Mexican meth flows easily through here. It’s better stuff, you can buy it without the risk of getting a manufacturing charge,” he said. “I think we had success [in limiting labs]…I can remember driving up and down country roads and finding all kinds of meth trash.”
There could be other factors causing low numbers, suggested former Grundy County Sheriff Greg Coon, who is now an officer with the Nitro Task Force. He questioned whether counties are reporting all incidents for inclusion in the database.
The Highway Patrol does not require counties to report lab incidents, but those incidents must be reported to the Department of Natural Resources if they wish to rely on them for hazardous waste disposal.
Coon also believes the drug makers are perfecting their craft.
“I still think there is a lot of dope being cooked in northwest Missouri, but people are being more careful,” he said. “They’ve got it down to an art.”
None of those counties have laws such as the one being considered by the Kirksville City Council.
North Missouri Drug Task Force Director of Operations Chris Brown agreed that if the goal is to make a serious impact on manufacturing meth, further restrictions on PSE-drug purchases is the place to start.
Brown said the Task Force’s area, which includes Putnam, Schuyler, Scotland, Clark, Knox, Macon, Randolph, Chariton, Linn and Sullivan counties (Adair County and Kirksville are no longer in the Task Force) still sees a handful of labs, but those occurrences have diminished tremendously.
“What we’re dealing with now is Mexican meth,” Brown said. “It’s pretty widespread all over the area.
“If they’re buying meth anywhere, 90-95 percent is going to be Mexican meth, or what we believe to be Mexican meth.
“It’s coming from across the border. It’s something we’ve been fighting for years.”
“Mom and pop” dominate Kirksville meth market
The Kirksville Police department estimates that close to 95 percent of the meth they come into contact with is of the “mom and pop” variety, meaning meth that is cooked within Kirksville and Adair County.
The ordinance before the Kirksville City Council is aimed directly at those individuals with the hope of reducing meth labs and crimes related to meth production.
KPD Chief Jim Hughes acknowledged the law increases costs to consumers seeking legal uses of PSE, while stating his belief there are more significant increased costs of doing nothing.
“I would say it’s my belief that based on the totality of circumstances, I believe meth accounts for more community and law enforcement problems than any other drug that we’re currently dealing with,” Hughes said, pointing to assaults, burglaries, thefts and numerous other crimes. “It’s just a mushroom-effect of all this stuff associated.”
Hughes said it is not known how much meth being imported from places like Mexico is in the Kirksville area, pointing to the recent bust where a pound of imported meth was seized in the city of Milan as “unusual” for the area.
Whether a law restricting PSE sales would invite more of that product to Kirksville is unknown, but Hughes said he believes any increases of other drugs will not reach the level of the current meth epidemic.
“If you have a vacuum, something is going to come in to fill that vacuum, but I don’t think it will get back up to that level,” he said. “The importation chain, the difference between methamphetamine and cocaine or heroin or those types of things, that stuff has to come in from outside, and so every place that it stops there is a chance for law enforcement to insert itself. But if you make it here and you only make it with people you’ve grown up with your entire life and who are out stealing for you, stealing property to pay for stuff and also ‘smurfing’ and all that, then you’re fairly comfortable that nobody in your group is associated with law enforcement. So, it’s very difficult to make those cases.
“Let’s say we’re successful in getting rid of the ‘mom and pops,’ which I’m not naive enough to think that we will, but let’s say we have a really statistically significant reduction of that, there could be an increase in the crystal meth and meth coming from other parts of the country, but I don’t think it will get up to that level. It’s more expensive and we have more chances to insert ourselves in the process and so I just don’t think that will happen.”