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Missouri remains leader in meth lab seizures

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SIKESTON -- Many places claim to be the nation's "meth capital," but the latest statistics show Missouri is still No. 1 in the number of methamphetamine lab seizures.

"We've got a bad meth problem," said Sgt. Jason Clark, public information officer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. "Our meth lab totals are still higher than other states."

According to totals released by the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area office in Jefferson City, Missouri had a total of 1,285 clandestine meth lab, chemical/equipment/glassware, and dumpsite seizures in 2007 -- one less than in 2006.

The state with the second highest total for 2007, Indiana, had less than half of Missouri's with 620, followed by Tennessee's 559, Illinois with 360 and Arkansas with 309.

Clark said as he doesn't have detailed information on neighboring states, he can not really make comparative statements as to the severity of meth problems, but is sure about one thing: "those states have a meth problem, too."

He does have an explanation for why Missouri is finding so many more meth labs than other states, however.

"I think we are so well trained here and have been dealing with the meth problem so long, we are just so efficient at finding the clandestine meth labs and the dump sites," Clark said. "Here in Missouri, methamphetamine is really 'Public Enemy No. 1.' If if you have a main problem, that is what you have to focus on."

In recent years, resources have been geared toward meth labs, according to Clark, "because that was gigantic inherent problem for the state of Missouri."

He noted that when it comes to fighting meth, "other states are mimicking our tactics. Missouri has kind of been a model state."

Clark said that before legislation was passed targeting meth, the number of of lab seizures were up at around 3,400.

The statistics gathered also breakdown seizures by county.

The 2007 figures show Jefferson County having significantly more seizures than elsewhere in the state, topping the top-five list with 218. The second county on the list is also in the St. Louis area: St. Charles County with 106.

"A lot of that is due to population," he explained: there are more lab seizures because there are more people, more users, more law enforcement officers out finding them.

There is also a historical factor, however.

"It was a preferred drug for many decades in the St. Louis area," Clark said.

On the other hand, just because a county didn't have any seizures doesn't mean it doesn't have any meth there.

"It's everywhere," he assured. "There isn't a community in the state that isn't affected by the meth problem."

Scott County is listed as having had 18 lab seizures last year while Mississippi County shows had one and New Madrid County didn't have any.

As precursor chemicals to make meth are now harder to get, "there are not so many mom and pop operations, local meth cooks," Clark said. "So our numbers are significantly down but that doesn't mean our meth problems have gone away."

Law enforcement is now able to shift their focus somewhat toward more interdiction efforts and undercover buys, he said.

"I just know we are doing a good job at fighting the meth problem and we're not going to quit," Clark said.

As for the future, Clark said there is state legislation in Jefferson City he hopes to see passed that would establish an electronic database connecting all the state's pharmacies so precursor chemicals purchases could be tracked by law enforcement.

"We support any legislation that's going to help us fight the meth problem," he said.