Meth lab busts at all-time high

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 04:26 PM

The number of methamphetamine labs found in Union County in 2013 has reached an all-time high.

Investigators found 20 meth labs last year, a 54 percent increase from the previous year. The State Bureau of Investigation investigated a total of 561 meth labs throughout the state last year. That is up from 460 labs found in 2012.

The largest number was in Wilkes County with 50 labs. Anson County’s total of 30 labs was the highest in the Charlotte region and third highest in the state.

The higher number means there are still too many meth manufacturers in the county, but law enforcement is better able to find and arrest the people running those labs, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said.

A new method of making meth in plastic bottles means the larger labs were pushed out in favor of smaller, more numerous operations, Cathey said. More than 80 percent of the labs found statewide last year used the “one-pot” method, according to a N.C. Department of Justice release.

“One thing that’s helped us is the tips through informants and Crimestoppers,” Cathey said. “Our patrols are also effective. The deputies are trained in what to look for.”

Explosions and fires are a major risk in meth manufacturing. Fire fighters and other rescue personnel are trained to look for chemicals and equipment used to make meth while responding to fires.

Tracking the purchase of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the main precursor for meth manufacture, has also helped law enforcement find people who make meth.

Rep. Craig Horn R-68 championed restriction of pseudoephedrine purchase by the public, specifically for tracking pseudoephedrine purchases. More than 400 law enforcement officers in the state use the National Precursor Log Exchange, which tracks who buys pseudoephedrine in 23 states.

“Technology is leading us to meth labs we otherwise wouldn’t know about,” N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said in the release. “We want to encourage all law enforcement agencies in North Carolina to take advantage of this tool to protect their communities.”

Horn also introduced a bill passed by the N.C. General Assembly that made it illegal for those previously convicted of making meth to possess pseudoephedrine. The law also added stricter sentencing when children or the elderly were exposed to meth during its manufacture.

More meth labs are being discovered, despite the challenges. But more needs to be done to wipe out meth manufacture for good.

“Certainly our education process helps. Our training we give to the firemen and the others helps with enforcement and as more people come through the court system, there will be stronger sentencing. The legislature will pass stricter laws,” Cathey said. “This is a very dangerous drug and it’s a threat for the whole community.”