Meth makers heading to Cape for pseudoephedrine, authorities say

Friday, June 4, 2010
In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009 photo, Pharmacist Les Logan works behind the counter at Rinderer's drug store near a new sign warning customers that a prescription will be required to purchase any drugs containing pseudoephedrine , in Union, Mo. The small eastern Missouri town is now forcing consumers to get a doctor's prescription for the common over-the-counter cold medicines, which contain a key ingredient used in the making of meth. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

To curb methamphetamine production, Southeast Missouri communities such as Kennett, Sikeston, Dexter and Poplar Bluff have passed ordinances requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient of the drug. Their measures have driven meth manufacturers north, authorities say.

Without an ordinance of its own, Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force supervisor Kevin Glaser said, Cape Girardeau is becoming a top destination for meth manufacturers to buy pseudoephedrine.

About a month ago, the task force conducted a sting operation at two of Cape Girardeau's most popular pharmacies -- Walmart and Walgreens. The results, Glaser said, reveal that many of the people once buying Sudafed and Claritin-D in Sikeston, Dexter, Kennett and Poplar Bluff are targeting Cape Girardeau.

"In about a four-hour period on our first day we arrested 13 people, all of them charged with attempt to manufacture meth," Glaser said. "The next day, in about the same amount of time, we arrested six more individuals. We could do that every day right here in Cape if we had the manpower and the resources to do it."

None of the people arrested, Glaser added, were residents of Cape Girardeau County.

In a May meeting, Cape Girardeau City Council members briefly discussed passing a pseudoephedrine ordinance after receiving a letter from the SEMO Drug Task Force asking for one. The council concluded a prescription requirement would be more effective if the Missouri Legislature passed it. The issue hasn't been brought up at a meeting since, according to Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger.

"I agree, it's really a state issue, so it doesn't start bouncing from one community to the next," Rediger said. "If there were significant facts given to us, statistics and so forth that this was coming into our community, we would probably look at it again. The letter that came to us was pretty general."

Although the Scott County Sheriff's Department doesn't have the staff to conduct sting operations like the task force, officers are doing their best to rid the area of methamphetamine labs, investigator Branden Caid said. All of the department's meth-related arrests have occurred because of calls reporting suspicious activity, a deputy detecting a chemical smell coming from a residence or information coming from a confidential informant.

"Most of our [arrests] haven't actually been from watching the trail of pseudoephedrine purchases," Caid said. "It's a heck of a tool to be able to use, though, if you have the manpower."

While Caid couldn't say whether ordinances passed farther south have prompted an increase in pseudoephedrine sales in Scott County, he said the department's meth lab investigations haven't decreased. The number of investigations, Caid estimated, has quadrupled in the last three years.

"In 2006, we did have a grant-funded meth officer here who was only supposed to work meth cases. He had trouble doing 40 hours a week because there wasn't a lot to investigate," Caid said. "Now it's exploded, they're everywhere. This is the time we actually need somebody."

Since Jan. 1, Scott County has recorded 23 arrests for attempt to manufacture methamphetamine and 25 arrests for possession of methamphetamine. A total of 19 meth labs have been investigated.

"Basically, in the first half of 2010, we have more than we had all of last year," Caid said.

Missouri isn't showing signs of a decrease in methamphetamine lab seizures either, according to statistics from the National Methamphetamine and Pharmaceuticals Initiative.

In January and February only, Missouri reported the seizure of 303 small, user-type labs, putting the state in a position to top the nation in meth labs for the fourth consecutive year.

By contrast, the states in the second- and third-place positions, Mississippi and Tennessee, seized 324 and 242 labs, respectively, through May 20.

Glaser said the answer to decreasing the methamphetamine operations in Missouri starts with making pseudoephedrine available only by prescription.

"I don't want to keep putting my guys and myself in the situations where we're going into these toxic environments," he said, referring to the chemicals present at meth labs. "That's what we're trying to drive home to these communities. It's a step in the right direction."

Brandon Michael, the pharmacy manager at Walmart in Kennett, said the city council's ordinance on pseudoephedrine was long overdue.

Since that ordinance was passed earlier this year, Michael said, he's noticed a drastic decline in pseudoephedrine sales.

"It transitioned in a matter of days," he said. A statewide restriction, though, he said, could help even more communities.

"It has helped quite a bit here, but it also has caused a real shift in things. They've gone from getting it here to getting it somewhere else," Michael said. "I do work at other locations, and you see familiar faces."

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