Meth lab busts reached record high in 2012, but dropped in most of WNC

Written by on January 10, 2013 in Buncombe, Community, Crime and Justice, Data, Information, Maps and Graphics, Polk, Region, Top News Comments Off
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In a newly issued tally of methamphetamine lab busts, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper reported that a record number took place in 2012. Statewide, 460 labs were discovered and shut down, up from 344 in 2011 and 235 in 2010.

Map of 2012 meth lab busts, courtesy of the N.C. Department of Justice. Click to view full-size image.

North Carolina’s 18 westernmost counties, however, bucked the trend: In those counties, 55 meth labs were discovered in 2012, down from 64 the year before.

Several counties just east of the area, however, had a significant number of busts. Wilkes County, for example, had the highest tally in the state, with 59. Catawba County had 26, and Burke County had 24.

The steady rise in the number of labs is largely due to the increased use of the so-called one pot method of making meth, Cooper said in a statement.

“One pot labs, also known as shake and bake labs, make smaller amounts of meth than previously seen larger meth labs,” he said. “Criminals can cook meth in a plastic soda bottle using a small amount of pseudoephedrine” and a few other key ingredients, he added.

Some 73 percent of the state’s 2012 meth lab busts were of the one pot variety, Cooper reported; in 2011, about 50 percent of the lab busts were of this type.

Cooper also touted the role of a new electronic tracking system, instituted at the beginning of last year, that flags and blocks large pseudoephedrine purchases at most of the state’s pharmacies.

Using the system, pharmacies blocked some 54,000 attempted purchases of the cold medicine in 2012. “Making it harder to get the key ingredient has prevented an increase in the number of larger labs and has forced some criminals to use the one pot method,” Cooper said.

Though there were nine fewer WNC-based lab busts in 2012, some mountain-area counties did see an uptick. In Buncombe County, for example, six busts occurred, as opposed to two the year before. And in Polk County, 11 busts took place in 2012, as opposed to only three in 2011.

A narcotics investigator with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, who requested anonymity due to his ongoing undercover work, discussed the new numbers with Carolina Public Press.

The county’s rise in meth lab busts, he said, is largely the result of special training the department has received from the State Bureau of Investigation in recent years. “The training and the knowledge the state has shared has given us more awareness of what to look for,” he said.

“All of the labs we found last year were the shake and bake ones,” the investigator said. “People are trying to do more of this on their own now. It’s cheaper, and this method of making methamphetamine doesn’t take a long time. From start to finish, a cook can probably make it within an hour.”

About two-thirds of Polk’s recently discovered meth labs led to arrests, he said, and some of the labs were found in homes where children lived. According to the 2012 figures released by Cooper, statewide, 120 children were removed from homes with meth labs, a jump from 82 in 2011.

“Meth labs may be getting smaller, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dangerous,” Cooper said. At present, he said, five SBI agents are tasked with countering meth production full time, and he is asking the state legislature for an additional five agents to tackle the growing problem.

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Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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