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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meth lab busts on the rise

Posted by on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 11:47 AM

The number of methamphetamine labs found in North Carolina reached a record high this year. That's just one of the takeaways from yesterday's meeting of the General Assembly's committee on methamphetamine abuse.

State legislators on Wednesday gathered to hear a final report from investigators of just how bad the problem of meth abuse has become. Among the findings: investigators have identified a total of 446 meth operations so far this year. In 2011, they busted just 344.

The new figures place North Carolina in the top 10 states where meth production sites are being identified. Van Shaw, Deputy Director of the State Bureau of Investigation, told legislators the agency expects the total to jump 30 percent in 2013.

Whether law enforcers are getting better at rooting out meth production, or there are more people cooking and consuming meth is hard to say, Shaw said. The uptick is partly due to "enhanced awareness" of meth production signs among investigators. Another factor is the ease with which the drug can now be produced.

The "one-pot" method of cooking the drug now accounts for 80 percent of the total meth production operations identified, said Shaw. Unlike larger-scale operations, the one-pot method allows producers combine the chemicals needed to "cook" meth in smaller containers. Something as small as a plastic soda bottle can do the job. One-pot cooking also allows for mobility. Case in point: Police arrested a Charlotte woman in September after finding a one-pot-style lab inside her car. The car was parked on the grounds of a high school.

To address the problem, the committee adopted five recommendations, including making it a criminal offense for anyone convicted of manufacturing or possessing meth to possess medicines containing Pseudophedrine, meth's chief ingredient. Another, more controversial, recommendation calls on Assembly members to consider creating legislation that will require people who purchase cold medicines and other products that contain Pseudophedrine to first obtain a prescription. Most are available for purchase over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores.

The recommendations will forwarded to state legislators for consideration when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

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