Missouri on track to lead in meth lab seizures again

Monday, November 8, 2010

Although a number of Missouri cities have committed to curbing methamphetamine use and production this year, the state is still likely to lead the nation again for the most lab seizures.

It would be Missouri's 10th straight year to record the highest number of meth labs. Statistics collected from law enforcement agencies in the state through September show Missouri has more than 1,400 methamphetamine lab seizures already recorded, up 8 percent from the same period in 2009.

"It's not just Missouri we're seeing. Meth labs are up in the surrounding Midwestern states," said Jason Grellnor, vice president of Missouri Narcotics Officers Association. "I expect it to continue."

And like Kevin Glaser, Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force supervisor, Grellnor thinks the year-end total could top 1,900, possibly 2,000 meth labs.

Jefferson County authorities have tallied the most amount lab seizures so far, 153, with Washington and Jasper counties not far behind, both hitting just below 70. In Southeast Missouri, Cape Girardeau County agencies have busted the most meth labs -- 44 in all -- while Scott County is reporting 39 and New Madrid County has seized 36.

Glaser said the task force's biggest concern is the continuous growth in popularity of "shake and bake" labs, which are the types most often discovered by law enforcement.

"It's just so hard to contain them and a lot of times even identify them. You can basically purchase one box of cold medication and with that one box you can cook your dope," Glaser said. "Combining all these reactive ingredients into one container, it's just a very volatile situation."

Grellnor said the "shake and bake" method has caused more destruction than other types of labs because manufacturers often cook the controlled substance in a 20-ounce container in a moving vehicle. Last week, Grellnor said, a meth lab inside a vehicle exploded near Union, Mo., causing the driver to swerve into an embankment.

"They fled and left the car to burn to the ground," Grellnor said. "Not only is it in a really dangerous form already, you have this fire and explosive hazard traveling next to you on Interstate 55."

An added concern for authorities this year has been the number of children they've encountered during lab seizures.

Grellnor said he wasn't sure of statistics, but more children this year have been taken from their homes and put into the custody of Missouri's Division of Family Services than in previous years. The most recent statistic available from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is that more than 500 children were found at seized Missouri meth labs in 2002.

During the first weekend of September, Grellnor, also an investigator with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, performed a bust in which three children were taken out of the home. Two were suffering from severe coughs and possible pneumonia, he said.

"The labs are smaller and because they're smaller there's belief they're less hazardous. That's just not the case," Grellnor said.

Despite the figures for 2010, Grellnor said he and other county and city leaders shouldn't stop trying to tackle the problem. Some communities have passed ordinances requiring a prescription for medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient needed to manufacture meth.

The approach those communities -- including Poplar Bluff, Sikeston, Dexter and Jackson -- have taken, paired with a statewide database that went online in early October, could affect 2011 numbers and decrease the number of labs popping up in the state, Glaser said. The tracking system, intended to prevent buyers from purchasing more than the maximum amount of pseudoephedrine allowed by Missouri law, is to be operational in all of the state's pharmacies by January.

"We know what the cause of the problem is, and that's the availability of pseudoephedrine," Grellnor said.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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