Meth lab busts break state record

By DeeAnna Haney | Jan 19, 2014

It was another record-breaking year when it came to meth labs in North Carolina, with investigators busting 22 percent more labs than the previous year.

The NC State Bureau of Investigation responded to 561 meth labs across the state in 2013, compared to 460 in 2012. That number has steadily risen each year since 2007 and is the most meth labs uncovered in the state in the past 10 years.

Wilkes County responded to 50 labs followed closely by Onslow County with 46. Only three were found in Haywood County, which is a slight increase from last year's two.

Despite fewer meth labs locally compared to other counties, there are still plenty of people being charged with possession of meth, suggesting that the drug is being imported or criminals are using new and easier methods to make it.

Gone are the days of complex, large scale meth labs in basements and trailers, it seems. About 81 percent of last year's meth labs were made using the "shake and bake" or "one pot" methods, according to the SBI.

Unlike the old way of cooking meth, which involved heating containers of flammable liquid chemicals, the shake and bake method requires few ingredients and can easily be transported from place to place.

It's the predominate type of meth lab found locally as well, said Det. Mark Mease with the Haywood County Sheriff's Office.

"The shake and bake and the one pot is such an easy method because it's easier for users to hide and easier to get rid of and it's more mobile. They can put the bottle in a backpack or a duffle bag and then dump it before they get pulled over. It makes it so much harder to find them because it can be hidden better," Mease said.

But with new technology and new laws, the more meth busts may mean law enforcement now have more efficient tools to find and arrest those who are making meth in the first place.

Through a system called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), law enforcement are able to track pseudoephedrine purchases, which are logged by pharmacies.

"The system is very beneficial to us because we can monitor the sales of pseudoephedrine and track suspected cooks. It will show me every time you bought pseudoephedrine and where you bought it," Mease said.

For those who have already bought the legal limit of pseudoephedrine, the system blocks the person from being able to purchase more. In 2013, NPLEx blocked 44,299 purchases, totaling 56,397 boxes — enough pseudoephedrine to have made about 280 pounds of meth, according to the NC Department of Justice.

"It's a wonderful tool for law enforcement because we just can't be everywhere all the time, so this is like an extra set of eyes for us," Mease said.

A law that went into effect in 2006 limits the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy to no more than two packages at once and no more than three packages within 30 days. Purchasers must also show a photo ID.

Beginning in December, legislators went a step further by making it illegal for any convicted meth cooker or user to possess any products containing pseudoephedrine.

"It won't stop them from buying it, but if we catch them with it then that's an extra thing we can charge them with. Now, they can't just say the reason they have it is because they have a cold," Mease said.

Of course, criminals always find a way around the law. Mease said there have been many cases that involve meth cookers who conspire with other people to use their IDs to legally purchase pseudophedrine in order to avoid one person being tracked for buying too much.

"One person can only buy nine grams of sudaphed a month, but if they can get 10 other people to go and buy then they can get 90 grams and that's how they get around it," Mease said.

That's why it takes an active narcotics unit like the one at the sheriff's office to pay close attention to suspected meth makers and users. Mease said the laws and NPLEx have helped his team combat the drug problem.

Safe disposal, better enforcement

The Haywood County Sheriff's Office employs four clandestine lab certified detectives, which are the only law enforcement able to respond to meth lab scenes in the county.

The SBI is the only statewide agency whose agents are trained and equipped to dismantle meth labs safely, and it plans to ask legislators for additional agents to keep up with the demand. Seven SBI agents currently work full time responding to meth labs, while other agents work meth labs on top of their full-time assignments.

Agents provide safe disposal of the harmful products that meth labs produce at no cost to local law enforcement. Agents and trained local officers remove, neutralize and package meth lab waste and transport it to one of eight container sites across the state for pickup and destruction by a hazardous waste contractor.

In addition to busting more labs, extra agents would be able to work more long-term investigations and open more investigations using NPLEx.

“Tougher laws and new technology are helping, but smaller meth labs continue to pose a threat to safety,” said Attorney General Roy Cooper in a press release. “We need more law enforcement along with better public awareness to fight meth labs.”

 

Meth Lab busts by NC State Bureau of Investigation, 2003-2013

Year

Meth Labs

2003

177

2004

322

2005

328

2006

197

2007

157

2008

197

2009

206

2010

235

2011

344

2012

460

2013

561

 

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.