Kansas saw a reduction in meth lab incidents last year, joining a downward turn in seizures seen nationwide in 2012.
Law enforcement officials reported 143 meth lab incidents statewide – down from 214 reported in 2011, according to statistics from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
The numbers seem positive. But authorities say the statewide decrease in meth-making doesn’t mean there’s a drop in use of the drug.
“There’s still a significant demand for (meth),” said KBI special agent in charge Kelly Ralston, who is assigned to the special operations division in Great Bend.
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“The numbers have decreased in terms of manufacturing, but we’re still seeing arrests for possession and distribution of methamphetamine in all parts of the state.”
Second year of decline
The Drug Enforcement Administration provided statistics to the Associated Press last week 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.
In 2010, the nation reported 15,196. Meth lab incidents include chemical- or equipment-only seizures, material dumpsites and lab seizures.
Missouri, the leader in meth lab incidents every year but one since 2003, again topped the list with 1,960 incidents in 2012. Tennessee was second with 1,701 incidents, followed by Indiana (1,697), Kentucky (1,000), Illinois (799) and Oklahoma (761).
Of Kansas’143 meth lab incidents reported last year, about half – 71 – were concentrated in five counties nestled in the southeastern corner of the state. The most – 25 – came out of Crawford County, according to the KBI. Of the other four, Montgomery County reported 17 meth lab incidents, while Cherokee County had 11. Labette and Neosho counties each had nine.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our proximity to Missouri and Oklahoma,” Crawford County Sheriff Dan Peak said when asked why he thought meth lab incidents in the region topped the state list in both 2011 and 2012. He also attributed the numbers to the region’s poverty rate, limited drug treatment resources and rural terrain.
“We are here bordering the Ozarks. ... And it does make for a clandestine-type situation for a lot of people,” he said. “They are able to operate out of sight of the neighbors.”
Experts say the nationwide decline could just be a blip and that it’s too early to tell if there’s a trend to explain the drop. Kansas sources attribute the slide, in part, to public education and improvements in both identifying and shutting down manufacturing operations. (Last year’s numbers are around five times less than they were 10 years ago.)
A steady flow of meth trafficked into the state is also a factor.
“A lot more of the meth is being brought in as opposed to made here,” said Cowley County Sheriff Don Read, whose jurisdiction reported 22 meth lab incidents in 2012, the second-highest in the state.
Ralston, of the KBI said Mexican-made meth “continues to be a problem.”
Excluding Reno County, which had 11 incidents, no other county reported more than 5 in 2012.
In 2011, Crawford County also had the highest number of meth lab incidents reported in the state, with 45. Montgomery County was second with 36, followed by Labette County with 35 and Cherokee County with 27.
Cowley County reported 17. No other county had more than seven.
Anti-meth efforts mixed
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. Purchases are limited and tracked; buyers must show identification.
Last year, Kansas pharmacists refused to sell about 25,904 grams of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine (nearly 3 percent of total requested sales), according to the KBI.
And two states – Oregon and Mississippi – as well as more than 70 Missouri towns and counties now require a prescription to get the drug.
Yet meth-users continue to find ways around the law. “Smurfing” – buying allowable amounts of pseudoephedrine, sometimes under false names, then selling it to drug makers – remains a problem.
Experts also say the vast majority of homemade meth in the U.S. is now quickly and easily concocted using legally purchased amounts of pseudoephedrine. “One-pot” or “shake-and-bake” operations typically create just enough meth for the maker and perhaps a friend using ingredients that can fit in a soda bottle.
The method accounted for 40 percent of the meth lab incidents (58) in Kansas in 2012, according to the KBI.
“It’s so mobile now that it takes a two-liter bottle and a few chemicals ... to whip something up,” Peak, of Crawford County, said.
He added: “We are still seeing meth usage at it’s highest rate ever in terms of incarceration.”
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne noted 2012’s numbers could change as late-reporting states update their figures. He also said it was too soon to know why the number dropped or whether the decline will continue.
In fact, some states have said they’re seeing a big rise in meth lab incidents reported 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.
In Kansas the numbers are much lower: only 44 meth lab incidents were reported statewide between Jan. 1 and the end of July, according to the KBI.
“It’s just such a powerfully addictive, relatively cheap drug,” Read, of Cowley County, said. “I think that those are two of the reasons it’s become the problem that it has been.”
Contributing: The Associated Press