Meth lab incidents rose in Missouri in last half of 2007, Highway Patrol says

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 | 4:41 p.m. CST; updated 4:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Meth lab busts are rising again in Missouri, causing lawmakers to look for new ways to discourage the illegal drug.

The number of methamphetamine busts declined after a 2005 Missouri law limited access to the drug's main ingredient — cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine.

But the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Tuesday that meth lab incidents started to go up again during the last half of 2007, and Missouri remains far and away the national leader in meth lab busts.

The mid-2005 law required products containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine to be placed behind pharmacy counters. It also required buyers of such medicines to show photo identification, limited how much of the product people can purchase each month and required pharmacies to maintain buyer logs that are available for law enforcement to review.

Lt. Sid Conklin, assistant director of the patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control, said meth makers are getting around the requirements by going from pharmacy to pharmacy in multiple cities, buying the maximum amount of pseudoephedrine at each place — a practice known as "smurfing." He said some meth cooks even have been hiring people to accompany them so that they also can purchase the maximum amount of the cold medicines.

Legislation by Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, would require pharmacies to keep an electronic log — instead of a paper record — of people who buy pseudoephedrine. The hope is that electronic records could more quickly spot patterns in which meth makers are buying pseudoephedrine products from multiple pharmacies.

Champion described her proposal as a real-time monitoring system of potential meth cooks. The Missouri proposal is similar to one adopted in October 2006 in Oklahoma that also tracks pseudoephedrine purchases in an electronic database.

Whereas Missouri had 1,205 methamphetamine incidents through the end of November — nearly one-fourth of all meth cases in the nation — Oklahoma had just 89 meth cases through that same period, according to figures presented Tuesday by the Missouri patrol to a Senate committee.

Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said the state's total annual meth lab busts are now comparable to what it used to experience in one month.

"I think you'll see benefits almost overnight" by enacting an electronic tracking method, Woodward told Missouri senators. "Our meth lab problem has almost disappeared."

Champion's legislation also would create an electronic monitoring system for prescription drugs, but she said pharmacies would have to report that information on a monthly basis, not in real time.

Senators were urged to adopt the prescription monitoring system by Scott Burns, the deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Burns said that abuse of prescription drugs by 12- to 18-year-olds is increasing nationally, even as their use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine is decreasing.

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