ST. LOUIS — Even as communities and states keep coming up with ways to make it harder to manufacture methamphetamine, makers of the dangerous and addictive drug keep finding ways around them.
Meth lab incidents around the nation rose 27 percent in 2009 to 8,611 from 6,757 in 2008, according to statistics from the El Paso Intelligence Center, a collaboration of government agencies that tracks drug movement.
And for the ninth straight year, Missouri had the most, with 1,774 incidents, up 19 percent from 1,487 the previous year. An "incident" includes meth lab busts but also any documented evidence of meth-making, authorities said Wednesday.
Indiana had the second-most meth lab incidents with 1,096, followed by Kentucky with 583, Mississippi with 577 and Michigan with 511.
The number of meth lab incidents peaked in 2003 and 2004 — more than 17,000 cases were reported both years. Incidents started to decline in the middle of the decade as some states, including Missouri, passed laws making it more difficult to buy large quantities of products containing pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient needed to make meth.
By 2007, the number of meth lab incidents nationally had dropped to 5,512. Since then, though, there has been a steady rise in Missouri and around the nation.
"Our meth problem hasn't gone away," said Sgt. Jason Clark, who heads the Division of Drug and Crime Control for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "Those folks manufacturing meth are resourceful in finding precursors."
Police on the front lines in Missouri are sensitive to claims that the state is the "meth capital." They say the Highway Patrol and many communities are simply proactive in addressing what is considered the region's most serious drug problem.
"Our numbers lead the nation and that's attributed to our aggressive stance," said Lt. Dave Marshak of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department near St. Louis. Jefferson County is annually among the nation's leading counties in meth lab incidents and had 227 last year, the most in Missouri and more than all but 10 states. "We train schools and educators, we even train trash haulers to keep an eye out for what they pick up, and to alert us if they see anything."
Missouri passed a law in 2005 requiring cold and allergy medications like Sudafed, Claritin D and Aleve Cold & Sinus that contain pseudoephedrine to be placed behind pharmacy counters. That law also limited the amount that could be purchased and required buyers to show a photo ID.
In August, another new Missouri law further restricted availability of pseudoephedrine by allowing it to be sold only in pharmacies. Since then, a handful of Missouri communities have passed laws requiring a prescription for the medications.
Meth makers have found ways around the measures. They avoid shopping in the restricted communities. With limits on the amount they can purchase, they send out teams of friends and fellow users to buy pseudoephedrine-containing medicines for them. They even travel outside of Missouri to make purchases in states with less-restrictive laws.
"We're surrounded by eight states," Clark said. "I'm not saying the meth makers get all of their chemicals from out of state, but the nature of the drug makes people do anything to get it."
Police say they're also seeing an increase in meth users making smaller batches through either the "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" method. In the one-pot method, ingredients are mixed in a gallon-sized container, such as a plastic pitcher. Shake-and-bake involves mixing the toxic ingredients in a 64-ounce soda bottle and shaking it up.
But both methods are highly dangerous and produce a less potent drug, Clark said. Meth makers still prefer to cook the drug the old-fashioned way.
"People need to realize the dope is more important to them than anything and they'll do whatever they have to do get it," Clark said.