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Number of meth lab seizures goes up

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series dealing with the growing number of meth labs and meth use in the county. On Tuesday, read about a young man’s struggle with meth addiction and the treatment plan that is available for those struggling with addiction.

While the number of meth lab seizures in Missouri declined last year, the number increased in St. Francois County.

Last year, St. Francois County had the third highest number of meth lab seizures in the state.

&#8220It’s a dubious distinction we don’t like,” said Detective Tim Porter of the Farmington Police Department.

The number of meth labs in St. Francois County seizures increased from 76 in 2004 to 121 in 2005. The number of seizures has increased each year from just 15 seizures in 2000.

Jefferson County, by far, led the state with 256 busts while St. Charles County came in second with 136.

Even with the decrease, Missouri still leads the nation in the number of meth lab seizures. Last year, 2,212 meth lab seizures were reported in Missouri. That was a drop from 2,788 in 2004.

Cut that number in half and Missouri would still lead the nation in the number of meth lab seizures. Following Missouri was Indiana with 962 busts and then Illinois with 956, Tennessee with 849, Iowa with 724, and Kentucky with 567.

Cpl. Scott Reed, a narcotics investigator, said it seems like the new state pseudoephedrine legislation is having an impact. However, he said it would be wrong to believe the meth problem could be solved solely with this legislation.

Since the state legislation restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine went into affect in July, the number of meth labs seized has dropped statewide about 44 percent. But he cautions people’s addictions just didn’t go away overnight.

&#8220We’re still having people buying the pills (in Missouri) but not nearly the quantities,” he said. &#8220I think they are finding different ways to get it. There has been (more) imported meth.”

The coordinator of the task force, Sgt. Wade Stuart, doesn’t know why Missouri’s numbers went down and St. Francois County’s numbers went up.

&#8220I don’t know if (the increase) can be attributed to good enforcement or a local trend,” Stuart said.

He said part of the reason they have been so successful here is that they have the cooperation from many local retail stores that sell items used in the production of meth. He said there are still a large number of people buying meth precursors in the area.

Sheriff Dan Bullock said a lot of people are buying the materials they need to make meth off the Internet. Bruce Momot, the department’s drug officer, said pseudoephedrine pills can be purchased individually for about $1.25. He said it might take some new legislation to take care of that problem.

Bullock doesn’t believe their numbers will go down much this year. During the first three months of the year, the task force has seized 20 meth labs.

Despite efforts made by state and federal legislators, he doesn’t see the meth problem going away any time soon. Even when it becomes less of a problem, some other drug will appear in its place, Bullock believes.

Bullock said the meth problem began in the early 1990s with imported meth. It was in the early 1990s that authorities took down the 5 Ws, an organized group known for drugs and crime.

Bullock said they started seeing meth labs, rather than imported meth, in the mid to late 1990s.

&#8220It’s progressively gotten worse,” he said.

It’s not just the Mineral Area Drug Task Force that seizes meth labs. All municipal police departments and the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department come across meth and meth precursors almost on a daily basis.

The municipal departments often call on the Sheriff’s Department’s drug officer, Bruce Momot, or the Mineral Area Drug Task Force to take down the labs. The sheriff’s department and at least two local police departments have drug dogs to help find drugs or suspects that are fleeing from meth labs.

&#8220We have several different ways of attacking the drug problem in our county,” Bullock said.

Victor Wilfong, another narcotics investigator with the task force, said drug investigations begin when they receive information from the general public or through other police agencies. He said about 75 percent of tips right now are coming from citizens.

Bullock agrees most of the tips come from concerned citizens or neighbors. Not every department in the state has that kind of cooperation and help, he said.

&#8220It helps tremendously,” he said.

Last year, the task force initiated 451 investigations with 408 arrests for drug offenses and 52 arrested for other types of offenses such as assault and child endangerment.

Informants made $11,328 worth of drug buys in 2005, not just meth but other drugs like marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs. They seized an estimated $342,385 worth of drugs.

As a result of investigations, 96 meth labs were destroyed – mostly in St. Francois, Washington and Ste. Genevieve counties. In addition, 219 ounces of marijuana, 5.5 ounces of cocaine, and 229 ounces of meth, 2,803 pseudoephedrine pills and 237 gallons of anhydrous ammonia were seized.

Federal Legislation

In March, the Combat Meth Act, which was sponsored by Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, and Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, was passed.

The bill, which went into effect April 9, will restrict the sale of cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, an ingredient needed in the manufacture of meth in the United States. Missouri and other states already had such a law but this makes the restriction nationwide and also further restricts the sale of not only pills, but liquid gelcaps.

It creates a new DEA classification for meth precursors to imposes tougher penalties for meth cooks while allowing legitimate consumers to access the medicines they need without a prescription.

Talent said he and Feinstein are urging greater cooperation between the United States, Mexico, and Canada &#8220to stamp out methamphetamine production and abuse throughout North America.”

The Combat Meth Act will require new reporting and certification procedures of the largest exporting and importing countries of pseudoephedrine and PPA, phenylpropanolamine.

Other components of the law include $99,000 in funding per year for the next five years to train state and local law enforcement to investigate and lock-up meth offenders, as well as to expand funding for personnel and equipment for enforcement, prosecution, and environmental cleanup.

The law also provides $200,000 in funding in 2006 and 2007 for Drug Endangered Children rapid response teams to promote collaboration among agencies to assist and educate children who have been affected by the production of meth.

&#8220One of the worst things about (meth) is what it does to kids,” Talent said.

He believes approximately 10,600 children in the United States were present at meth lab seizure or lived where meth was being produced between 2000 and 2003.

These teams assist local social workers in helping children who suffered from physical and psychological harm due to their exposure to drugs and people under the influence of drugs.

The law also provides tools to prosecute meth cookers and traffickers and enhances criminal penalties. It also enhances regulation of meth byproducts such as the hazardous materials and waste left behind.

Also in March, Sen. Talent and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., got an amendment approved in Congress for an additional $23 million to restore the COPS methamphetamine Enforcement and Clean-Up Program to the current level over the next five years. Without the amendment, funding would have been reduced by 35 percent.

Talent and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., are working to increase funding for family-based treatment centers from $10 million to $25 million.

Talent said Lt. Kyle Marquart of the Missouri Highway Patrol Troop C Division of Drug and Crime Control, was the one who got him interested in meth legislation. He said the discussion came up during a roundtable forum.

&#8220I think it’s going to help tremendously,” Marquart said. &#8220… Any steps we can take to the limit the sale of pseudoephedrine is fantastic.”

He likes that the federal law restricts the liquid form of pseudoephedrine, as well.

&#8220We are seeing that they can use the liquid to manufacture meth,” Marquart said.

He said the federal law is a big step in the right direction.

&#8220I think (Talent) just worked tirelessly to get this legislation passed and had excellent results,” he said.

Marquart believes legislators also need to look into a prescription monitoring program that would reduce the ability and the opportunity for people to do pharmacy and doctor shopping. Pharmacists would be able to see what prescriptions patients are getting and how often.

The problem would not only help the pseudoephedrine abuse but the abuse of other prescription medicine such as pain killers. It would also make pharmacists aware of any prescriptions that conflict with other prescriptions.

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