Top DEA official in Cape County to discuss meth

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

It's a dubious distinction, but one brought to the forefront by a visit from the top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration: Missouri is now the methamphetamine capital of the United States.

"The numbers reflect that there is a problem in Missouri," DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson told a room full of law enforcement officials Monday at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. "But they also show you're working hard and making a dent in the problem."

Missouri had been second to California for the past several years, but that changed in 2001, when there were 2,130 meth labs found in the state. That's 415 more than in now second-place California.

In Cape Girardeau County, there were 68 meth labs found in 2001, in Scott County, there were 32, in Bollinger there were 11 and in Perry there were six.

Hutchinson has launched a national methamphetamine awareness tour that will take him to 30 states over the next three months to discuss each state's meth problems.

Hutchinson was invited to Southeast Missouri by U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. The round-table discussion was attended by more than 50 police, prosecutors and politicians.

"Cocaine and heroin are bad, but meth is in an arena by itself," Hutchinson said. "And it's more than the labs you folks are finding. There's a whole lot of meth going up and down that highway."

Law enforcement's main concern seemed to be a lack of manpower to battle the ever-growing problem.

"Meth is the worst problem our county has ever had, and I've been sheriff for 25 years," said Scott County Sheriff Bill Ferrell. "If I had the people, we could bust a meth lab a day, but there's not enough manpower or dollars to do it. You have to do them as you can."

Anhydrous stolen

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said if police were stationed where there is anhydrous ammonia -- a key ingredient to making meth -- at least half a dozen people could be caught every night.

"It's just like foxes at the hen house," he said. "They come in and try to steal it all night long."

In the past two years, Bond helped secure $5.6 million in federal funds to be distributed directly to 33 Missouri sheriff's offices and 16 law enforcement task forces that serve more than one county.

Too many restrictions

Police expressed gratitude for the money, but said it often comes with too many restrictions.

"There seems to be a growing emphasis on cutting back," said Sgt. Kevin Glaser, supervisor of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force. "They are now wanting to limit the amount of money we can use for overtime. We can use it for equipment, which is great. But if I don't have the people, there's no one to use the equipment."

Hutchinson said the best way to implement change is to keep their concerns on the table.

"People are listening," he said. "Keep talking."

Bond said Missouri earned this "sad distinction" because of its location in the middle of the country.

"We became a draw for methamphetamine cookers, distributors, dealers and smugglers," he said. "That has to change."

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