Cost of meth making business on the rise

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The basic rules of economics apply everywhere. Even in the business of selling illegal drugs.

The Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force has noticed that $100 doesn't go quite as far as it used to.

For months, a task force representative says, the street price for methamphetamine has been increasing, a trend officials say can be attributed to increased difficulty in producing methamphetamine in homemade labs.

One hundred dollars will buy seven-tenths of a gram these days, according to Brenda Cone, a sergeant on the Missouri State Highway Patrol and member of the drug task force.

"It was always $100 for a gram as long as I can remember," she said.

Cone and other law enforcement officials suggest that so-called mom-and-pop meth producers are finding it harder to get their hands on pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient. Until last week, it could be found in some over-the-counter allergy drugs.

A bill that was recently signed into law requires that all such allergy drugs are kept behind the pharmacy counter. Purchase requires that consumers provide photo identification. Pharmacists collect the customer's name and address, which can be reviewed by law enforcement.

But Cone said the spike in street costs has been going on for several months, long before the bill was signed into law.

Legislators say large numbers of pharmacists began putting the allergy drugs behind the counters before required by the law. Gene Brockett, pharmacist of Jones Drugs in Jackson, was one of those who instituted a store policy long ago.

The theory suggests that such policies and long-standing drug enforcement efforts have reduced the number of local meth labs. However, as expected, the drug task force has come across more imported methamphetamine. So while the cost is going up, so is the quality of the drug.

"It's called 'ice,' and we're going to see a lot more of it," Cone said. "The purity level has been reported to be more quality, more pure. It's increasing rapidly, daily."

She said much of the imports come from people who may have relatives in Texas, California or Arizona.

Still, the change is welcome to drug enforcement officers, who have for years been busting local labs.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan, who organized the Missouri Sheriffs Methamphetamine Relief Team (MoSMART), said the environmental and safety concerns associated with the lab chemicals have forced law enforcement agencies to spend countless hours and dollars on processing labs, meaning less time has been spent going after the dealers.

Jordan said the street price has spiked locally, but not statewide. He said he hopes it's just a matter of time before the rest of the state follows suit.

"One of the goals of MoSMART was that we hoped to see the increased price on the street," Jordan said. "It was a long-term goal. What it is is an indicator that lets us know that what we're working on is starting to limit the supply on the street. However, imported drugs will be there to fill the gap. But if we can limit the labs, it will allow more time to go after dealers who are in it for monetary reasons."


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