Crime & Courts

Meth laws cut labs; drug now smuggled

While the number of meth labs across Kansas has dropped in recent years, the addictive drug continues to plague the state, officials say.

Although possession and consumption of the drug is hard to measure, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said he thinks it remains as high or higher in the Wichita area than it was during the heyday of meth labs.

The number statewide has fallen since the passage of laws making it more difficult for meth "cooks" to buy a key ingredient: cold medicine.

Meth still poses a serious problem because the bulk of the supply continues to be smuggled into the Wichita area from Mexico along two main routes — U.S. 54 from Liberal and I-35 from Dallas, Stolz said.

Locally, he has noticed a recent increase in meth labs — especially mobile labs set up in vehicles.

According to Wichita police data, officers have dealt with 265 meth-related cases this year through Nov. 15, compared with 297 in 2009 and 233 in 2008. The vast majority of the cases involve meth

possession.

Meth use has a wide impact. It is a drug of choice for burglars and people who commit check fraud and credit card fraud, Wichita police say.

Gov. Mark Parkinson recently announced a strategic plan to combat meth. It includes gaining funding for law enforcement, treatment and prevention; establishing drug courts in rural communities; promoting policies to fight meth labs; and helping children who are endangered by drugs. Drug use is closely linked to child abuse, experts say.

Kansas is one of seven states in a federal program that helps law enforcement agencies fight meth. One of the stakeholders in the program is the Juvenile Division of the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office.

Loretta Severin, coordinator of the state's anti-meth program, said, "The demand for meth... is still something that we have to try to suppress in Kansas."

"Historically," she said, "rural states have struggled with methamphetamine," partly because there are fewer officers in rural areas to tackle the problem.

In his vast, rural Butler County, Sheriff Craig Murphy says, "We are dealing with meth-user problems."

"The labs are not such a big thing now," thanks to tougher laws, Murphy said.

Still, he said, his investigators are arresting and hearing of meth dealers.

"They're bringing it in from the outside," Murphy said.

Last year, Kansas law enforcement officers seized 121 meth labs. Four years before that, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation counted 390 meth lab seizures statewide. In 2006, the number had dropped to 168.

In 2005, the Kansas Legislature enacted the Matt Samuels Law, with restrictions similar to a federal law that limited the sale of pseudoephedrine medicines — the key meth ingredient. The state law was named after the Greenwood County sheriff who was shot to death at a house being used as a meth lab. Scott Cheever said he was high on meth when he killed Samuels.

Still, the people who make meth have found one way around the laws —"smurfing." It involves rounding up a number of people to buy medicines in small quantities to avoid detection.

Another way criminals have adapted is using the "shake-and-bake" method. It's fast and simple: A cook combines crushed cold-medicine pills and household chemicals in a two-liter pop bottle, then shakes the contents. The reaction forms the drug.

Although it's not as elaborate as a full-scale lab, it still poses the risk of a fire, an explosion or a toxic release.

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