FRANKFORT — With the federal government no longer paying a dime to help clean up methamphetamine labs, the financial burden now falls on the Kentucky State Police and the Louisville Metro Police Department.
That burden is intensified because their budgets are shrinking and the number of meth labs in Kentucky is skyrocketing.
For the past 10 years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, through a federal grant, has paid a private contractor to dispose of waste from meth labs after local and state police departments find and dismantle the labs. With recent belt-tightening in Washington, D.C., that funding evaporated. There were hopes that funding might be restored, but the newest federal budget bill contains no new money for the meth lab cleanup program.
DEA officials said in a statement that the agency tried to stretch its grant money to pay for cleanup over the past year, but it has run out.
"We are out of money, and the prospect of getting additional funding is bleak," the statement said.
The DEA estimates that there will be more than 12,500 meth labs to clean up across the nation next year, at a cost of $26 million.
Lt. Col. Joe Williams of the Kentucky State Police said his agency is trying to find ways to absorb the increased costs within its existing budget. But that's difficult. Over the past three years, KSP's state funding has been cut by nearly 20 percent.
Williams said the DEA's last payment to a private contractor to pick up the waste from KSP posts was in late February.
In Louisville — with the highest number of meth labs and lab-related deaths in the state — the police department ran out of federal waste-removal money in late January, Sgt. Stanley Salyards said.
Precise figures on the costs of removal of meth lab waste are not available, but one estimate by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency suggests that it spent about $145,000 last year disposing of waste from meth labs in Kentucky. But that number is likely to be higher.
Salyards said Louisville will have to find an estimated $20,000 in local funds to pay a contractor to safely dispose of the waste. Last year, Louisville Metro Police located and cleaned up 154 labs. Three people died last year when meth labs exploded in Jefferson County.
"We don't want to spend the money, and we don't have the money to spend," Salyards said.
Williams said the state police are working to reduce the cost of waste disposal. Currently, 15 of 16 state police posts have containers that hold the dangerous chemicals found in meth labs. Almost all local law enforcement — Louisville being the biggest exception — take meth lab waste to KSP posts.
"What we're trying to do now is to reduce our costs by possibly taking the waste to the busiest locations in the state," Williams said. "We don't have any other choice than to take the money out of agency funds. There aren't any other federal grants out there."
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, said there is a solution to the funding problem that doesn't require more federal money: Require people who want to buy cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine — to have a prescription.
Oregon and Mississippi have passed similar laws and have seen the number of meth labs plummet to double digits. Kentucky had more than 1,000 meth-lab incidents reported last year alone.
"The dismantling of these dangerous and environmentally degenerative meth labs has stretched our local law enforcement thin, and that's why I've supported legislative measures to schedule pseudoephedrine in Kentucky and nip this problem in the bud," Rogers said in a statement. "
A bill that would require prescription for cold medicines with pseudoephedrine died in the state Senate earlier this year. The over-the-counter drug industry said the bill would inconvenience allergy and cold sufferers and that the state's current electronic monitoring of those who buy cold medicines with pseudoephedrine works.
Salyards, a former president of the state's narcotics officers, said the group will continue to push the measure in next year's legislative session, which begins in January.