ST. LOUIS — Methamphetamine lab seizures and arrests declined nationwide in 2012, but experts say they don't yet know why, and some states are already reporting increases this year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration provided statistics to The Associated Press, showing 12,694 meth lab incidents in 2012, down 5.5 percent from 13,390 in 2011. It was the second straight year of decline, but experts said it could just be a blip, and it's too early to tell if there's a trend to explain the drop. The nation had 15,196 meth lab incidents in 2010.
Missouri, the leader in meth lab incidents every year but one since 2003, again topped the list with 1,960 incidents in 2012. One Missouri county alone — Jefferson County, near St. Louis — had 346 incidents.
In fact, Missouri and three other Middle America states combined for nearly half of all meth lab incidents. Tennessee was second with 1,701 incidents, followed by Indiana (1,697) and Kentucky (1,000).
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne noted the numbers could change as late-reporting states update their 2012 figures.
Payne said it was too soon to know if the declining number of incidents was a trend or why the number dropped. In fact, some states said they're seeing a big rise this year.
Tom Farmer, director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, said Tennessee is on pace for around 2,000 meth lab incidents in 2013. Indiana is on pace for nearly 1,900, said Niki Crawford, commander of Indiana's Meth Suppression office.
Experts say the vast majority of homemade meth in the U.S. is now concocted by mixing pseudoephedrine and other ingredients in a soda bottle, the so called "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" method. Unlike the more elaborate labs of yesteryear, one-pot typically creates just enough meth for the maker and perhaps a friend, not enough to sell.
Because one-pot meth can be made quickly and easily, often in a car, meth is becoming more common in urban and suburban areas. In Missouri, the top four counties for meth incidents were all in the St. Louis area.
"The one-pot method just makes it very simple to manufacture," Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull said.
A variety of meth-fighting efforts have had mixed success. The Combat Meth Act of 2005 requires cold and allergy pills containing pseudoephedrine to be sold from behind the counter. Pseudoephedrine purchases are tracked and buyers must show identification. The amount that can be purchased is limited. Two states — Oregon and Mississippi — require a prescription, as do more than 70 Missouri towns and counties.
Yet, meth-makers continue to find ways around the law. Farmer said six people recently arrested at a meth operation in Overton County, Tenn., had a combined 77 fake identifications.
"Every one of those false IDs had purchased the maximum allowable amount of pseudoephedrine," Farmer said.
The DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) compiles meth lab seizure data. EPIC data showed that the top 16 states for meth lab incidents were all in Middle America or the South. Illinois was fifth with 799 incidents. The remainder of the top 10 were: Oklahoma (761), Ohio (683), Michigan (588), North Carolina (460) and South Carolina (446).