According to a new Missouri State Highway Patrol report, Missouri is again ranked No. 1 in the country for methamphetamine lab seizures.
Reports indicate after a decline in 2006, for the last four years, meth lab seizures have been on the rise, with 2,096 labs seized in 2011 alone. According to Sedalia Police Department Detective Ryan Reed, the SPD STING Unit served 14 search warrants for meth from January 2011 to date.
“I’d say 90 percent of our search warrants are meth related,” Reed said. “One of the biggest seizures we did last year was a man who had a few ounces on him worth about $7,000. We also shut down a lab that was above a Head Start preschool last February.”
Reed said much of the meth found in Sedalia is not “home cooked.”
“We’re seeing more meth coming from Mexico, nicknamed Mexican Ice, because it’s cheaper and easier to import it than cook it,” Reed said. “I’m not saying cooking and meth labs aren’t still out there, they are, but when compared to the number of labs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we’re down a lot.”
The government’s decision to crack down on purchases of pseudoephedrine has also played a large role in the decline of meth cooks and the increase of importing Mexican meth, Reed said. Pseudoephedrine is the only ingredient in meth that cannot be substituted.
“In 2006, Missouri passed a law that customers had to register to purchase pseudoephedrine and there was a limit on the number you could buy,” said MSHP Capt. J. Tim Hull.
“Unfortunately, a practice known as ‘smurfing’ came about because of that. People will go from pharmacy to pharmacy, county to county, buying as much pseudoephedrine as they legally can.”
Liz Rehmer, executive director of the Mothers Against Methamphetamine Sedalia Chapter, said while Missouri law enforcement is very aggressive in taking down meth labs, she believes more could be done.
“Until our lawmakers decide that you have to have a prescription for pseudoephedrine, meth will always be a problem,” Rehmer said. “It’s been proven that tracking purchases and making people register does not work. Requiring a prescription works. There are a few counties in Missouri that do require it, but not nearly enough. I’d like to see Pettis be one of those counties.”
Reed called meth a “plague” on Sedalia.
“Meth is the most addictive thing on the planet,” Reed said. “There’s a huge rush of dopamine to the brain when you use meth and for many, it’s the psychological addiction that’s worse than the physical one.”
Rehmer “absolutely agrees.”
“It is a plague in Sedalia and everywhere else,” she said. “I first got involved in MAMA because I had a son who was an addict and back then, there wasn’t a lot of support for the family members who were affected by meth. There’s a shame that goes along with it and it used to be more so. I’d say in the nearly six years I’ve been the director, we’ve helped hundreds of families deal with the many, many problems that meth causes.”
In addition to the drug use, meth addicts tend to commit other crimes to pay for their habit, Reed said.
“Sedalia has a lot of drug-related burglaries and thefts,” he said. “Addicts will scrounge for steel, copper wiring or catalytic converters which they’ll pawn for money. Stolen jewelry is a big one too, because the price of gold is so high.”
According to Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, 90 percent of the inmates at the Pettis County Jail have some sort of substance abuse problem.
“I wouldn’t say they’re all on meth, but meth is a big problem,” Bond said. “Meth has those residual effects, theft and burglary, so we see a lot of the same people, over and over.”
Bond said he’s seen meth lab numbers in the county stay about the same from year to year.
The Sheriff’s Office shut down eight labs in 2011.
“We shut down eight, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a huge number of labs we didn’t get to,” he said. “You see a lot of labs being shut down near St. Louis. Jefferson County, for example, had more than 200 in 2011, but they also have a dedicated task force just for meth. (In Pettis County) we have one investigator whose salary is paid through a grant. The other deputies of course help as needed, but with only one person working full time to investigate drugs, there’s only so much we can do.”
Both Reed and Bond said they’ve seen an increase in the number of “shake and bake” meth uses.
“Shake and bake is especially dangerous because addicts will use a soda bottle to create a few hits of meth,” Reed said. “Essentially, they’re walking around, holding a meth lab in their hands. It’s extremely dangerous not only for them but also for the people around them. But addicts like it because it’s easy, fast and generally harder for law enforcement to detect.”
Bond said sheriff’s deputies see old shake and bake bottles on the sides of roads and in ditches.
“We know it’s out there, we see the evidence all the time,” Bond said. “But we’re also concerned with the import of meth. Unfortunately, it’s a supply and demand business. When the demand is there, there will always be a supply. We can arrest a meth lab cook or an importer, but then there’s three or four others who would gladly take their place supplying meth to the community.”
And those who are demanding meth? There’s no typical user, Reed said.
“When meth first started getting popular, the stereotypical user was poor and white,” Reed said. “Now we see all kinds of demographics. Rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, women, men. It’s gotten so bad that the people we arrested in the late 1990s for meth, they’ve passed down this lineage and now we’re arresting their children for the same things.”
Hull noted that meth used to be found in rural areas of Missouri, but that’s changing as well.
“We’re seeing it spread to cities, especially St. Louis,” Hull said. “Jefferson, Washington and Franklin counties are the highest when it comes to meth busts.”
And while Missouri still may be No. 1 in the country for meth, Reed cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.
“Missouri reports our meth arrests and seizures more so than other states,” Reed said.
“Years ago there were a lot of federal dollars devoted to the meth problem but many of those grants have dried up. Missouri still gets state funding which allows us to fill out a form into the National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
Reed pointed out the hazardess waste leftover from meth labs is extremely dangerous and hard to dispose of. According to the MSHP, Missouri also offers a certification course for law enforcement to safely respong, investigate and clean up meth labs. Since it’s start, more than 1,000 people have been certified.
“It’s quite an ordeal to take down a lab and get everything taken care of,” he said. “Luckily, Missouri law makers recognize this and fight to continue our funding.”
“(Sedalia’s) police and sheriff departments are dealing with the meth problem in the best way they can,” Rehmer said. “But if we didn’t have this problem at all, think of how much better their time could be spent. I think it’s up to the citizens, to fight against meth any way we can. We don’t want meth dragging down our community anymore than it already has.”