State police report: Meth abuse, meth-related crime increasing

State Police find more labs, thefts, assaults

bestep@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2011 

METH TRADEOFF

6.4 grams of crystal methamphetamine

ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Among the findings

    ■ Criminal cases associated with meth went up 115 percent in 2009 and 73 percent in 2010.

    ■ Cases involving the manufacture of meth rose to 49 percent of all meth crimes — which include things such as possession and trafficking — in 2010.

    ■ The number of people considered victims of meth, such as children and adults exposed to fumes from the homemade labs, rose from 2,252 in 2009 to 2,724 in 2010, according to the report.

There's more of nearly everything related to methamphetamine in Kentucky these days, according to a new report that paints a worsening picture of abuse of the drug.

For instance, there are more homemade meth labs endangering people with noxious fumes and the potential to blow up, and more crime linked to meth, especially thefts and assaults, according to the analysis by state police.

State police prepared the analysis of meth trends last month, using information from scores of police agencies in Kentucky. The Lexington Herald-Leader obtained a copy.

The number of total drug cases rises in Kentucky annually, but meth cases are going up at a faster pace than that of other drugs, the report said.

Stan Salyards, a narcotics officer in Louisville, said other drugs such as cocaine, heroin and pain pills come from foreign sources or pharmaceutical companies.

"I think one reason a lot of people are turning to meth is because you can make it," he said.

In 2008, meth accounted for 6 percent of all drug cases, but that figure nearly doubled to 11 percent in 2010, the report said.

Some cocaine users might be switching to meth, which provides a similar high that lasts longer and is cheaper, state police analysts said.

The report notes that cocaine cases in the state have declined at about the same rate meth cases have gone up.

The report notes there are gaps in the information underlying the analysis, such as a difficulty in getting drug-trafficking data.

However, the numbers and experience on the ground show there are increasing problems with meth in the state, police said.

"The use is going up," said Lt. Col. Joe Williams, director of the Operations Division of the Kentucky State Police. "We're seeing it in new areas all the time. It's spreading."

Finding help

The report comes as legislators consider a measure aimed at cutting the number of meth-lab incidents in the state, which hit a high of 1,080 in 2010.

Senate Bill 45 and House Bill 281 would require a prescription for cold and allergy medicine that contains pseudoephedrine.

Meth "cookers" put the pills into plastic soda bottles with other ingredients such as drain cleaner to produce a chemical reaction to convert the decongestant to meth.

There are limits on how much pseudoephedrine people can legally buy in a month, but meth cookers have found a way to evade the restriction.

They have multiple people — often addicts — buy their limit, then turn over the pills to produce meth.

A committee has approved SB 45, but it is stalled in the full Senate. The measure faces well-financed opposition from over-the-counter drug makers and others in one of the biggest battles of the current legislative session.

Opponents argue that the measures would inconvenience people who need common cold and allergy medicines by requiring them to get a prescription and would add to health-care costs.

Supporters say it would be worth some inconvenience to cut down the number of meth labs.

Reubin T. Fields, who is charged in Knox County with making and possessing the drug, said he had kicked meth after an earlier charge and had his own excavation business before he was arrested in January.

He said he thought meth would help keep his energy up so he could work more. Instead, he's sitting in the Knox County Detention Center.

"I've not seen anyone do just a little meth," Fields said. "It'll take everything that you love."

Fields said he thinks requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine would make it harder for people to make meth in the small "shake and bake" labs.

"It's going to head it off," he said.

Fields also said the state needs more treatment to help meth addicts and more education to try to reduce abuse of meth and other drugs.

"They're not monsters," he said of addicts. "Let's figure out a way to help 'em."

Migrating eastward

Oregon and Mississippi are the only states that require a prescription to get products containing pseudoephedrine. Officials in both have reported dramatic reductions in the number of meth labs.

The number of lab incidents in Mississippi has dropped by 72 percent since August of last year, after the state's new law went into effect, and the number of children found at places with meth labs has declined 89 percent, said Marshall Fisher, head of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

"Access to pseudoephedrine equals meth. If you don't have access to it, you've got less meth," Fisher said.

Groups that oppose the prescription law contend that electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine sales, which Kentucky and some other states have, is a more effective way to combat meth.

That's because police can use the tracking system for investigations and because it allows pharmacists to enforce the limit on how much pseudoephedrine people can buy.

"We know that in Kentucky, e-tracking technology blocks 10,000 grams of potentially illegal sales per month," said Elizabeth Funderburk, spokeswoman for the Consumer Products Healthcare Association, the industry group for companies that make over-the-counter medications.

Kentucky narcotics officers, however, note that the number of labs has continued to rise in the state even with electronic tracking in place. Police don't have the resources to make significant use of the system to find meth labs, they say.

The Kentucky State Police report said various agencies estimated that meth-related costs, such as investigating and cleaning up labs and jailing offenders, topped $30 million in 2009.

That didn't include the costs to fire departments or to place children in emergency care.

No figure was available for last year.

The report noted racial and regional differences in meth in Kentucky.

The great majority of offenders are white, for instance, perhaps a reflection that most Kentucky residents are white.

In Louisville and in the central and southern parts of the state, much of the meth available is produced in homemade labs. But in Western Kentucky, a greater percentage of the meth is sold after being brought in from other states and Mexico.

One likely reason for the lower number of labs in Western Kentucky is that police began fighting production there in the early 1990s, analysts said, before significant meth manufacturing spread to other parts of the state.

There is less production of meth in Eastern Kentucky, where diverted prescription pills remain the biggest drug of choice.

However, "the migration eastward will likely continue," the report concluded.

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