Law enforcement agencies say they are seeing a spike in methamphetamine production in Southeast Missouri so far this year, despite tighter restrictions on the purchase of cold medications containing pseudoephedrine.
As of Monday, the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force had just over 40 meth lab seizures, close to the total reported in all of 2008, said task force director Kevin Glaser.
"We could conceivably see a double in 2009," Glaser said.
Current Missouri law, in effect since 2005, restricts the purchase of medicines containing pseudoephedrine to no more than 9 grams every 30 days and requires that buyers sign a paper log identifying themselves and the amount sold to them. Cold medicines with pseudoephedrine, such as Claritin D or Sudafed, are now stored behind the counter in pharmacies, and those restrictions helped control the meth problem for a few years.
"That helped initially quite a bit," Glaser said.
Now, "smurfing" -- going from pharmacy to pharmacy buying the total allowed quantity of pseudoephedrine at each store until enough is collected to produce meth -- is causing the numbers of meth lab incidents to skyrocket again.
"All across Missouri we're seeing those numbers creep up," Glaser said.
The paper log system doesn't provide sufficient "checks and balances," he said.
The prevalence of "shake and bake" or "one-pot" meth making has worsened the situation by providing for easier manufacturing, said Richard Logan, a pharmacist at L&S Pharmacy in Charleston, Mo., and reserve deputy with Scott and Mississippi County sheriff's departments.
While the pseudoephedrine legislation has had positive effects on the meth problem in Missouri, smurfing has not been completely addressed.
"It seems to be as bad as it was in the early '90s," Logan said. "It's just gotten really ugly."
Logan said toward the end of last summer, his employees reported so many suspicious buys of pseudoephedrine-based products that he would come in to work wearing his badge and sheriff's department vest and speak with customers about their purchases.
Last year, Missouri legislators authorized a statewide electronic monitoring system for pseudoephedrine-based drugs, but funding for the software program has yet to be made available.
Lawmakers said they were working on creating a "real-time" monitoring system like the one in Oklahoma.
Such a monitoring program, Glaser said, would be more effective in tracking sales and prohibiting someone from making a purchase of pseudoephedrine-based drugs even if they'd bought the maximum legal allotment minutes earlier at another drugstore.
"We've tried to work very aggressively to find money to fund it," said Ron Fitzwater, chief executive officer of the Missouri Pharmacy Association.
Fitzwater said pharmacists understand the need to address the meth problem and think the legislation will be effective in combating it.
Under a bill sponsored this year by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, a prescription would be required for pseudoephedrine-based drugs. The last action on that bill was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February.
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701