SIKESTON -- With methamphetamine production back on the rise, narcotics officers are rounding up offenders and pushing for tighter restrictions on precursor drugs.
Precursor drugs are chemical substances frequently used to manufacture illicit drugs.
"Pseudoephedrine is a 'must have' ingredient if you want to make methamphetamine -- there is no substitute for it," said Kevin Glaser, supervisor of the SEMO Drug Task Force. "What we've seen over the last year is a gradual increase in people buying cold medicine precursors. Naturally, at the same time we've also seen an increase in our lab seizures."
The SEMO Drug Task Force is now making "a concentrated effort" to address these increases, according to Glaser. "Basically, we're targeting meth cooks," he said.
SEMO DTF and Sikeston Department of Public Safety officers conducted operations Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Sikeston.
Included was surveillance on pharmacies where meth cooks were buying or attempting to buy pseudoephedrine along with surveillance at retail stores from which other meth ingredients are purchased.
Glaser said SEMO DTF and DPS officers made about 20 felony arrests for purchases or attempted purchases of precursor drugs and seized several meth labs during the three-day operation.
"We could do this on any single day and make arrests," Glaser said. "This is going on in Cape Girardeau, this is going on in Poplar Bluff -- you name the community and this activity is going on."
In August 2005, Missouri's House Bill 441 went into effect making pseudoephedrine and ephedrine Schedule 5 drugs. Only pharmacies are now able to legally sell compounds containing these substances which, since the bill went into effect, are kept behind the counter. All sales of these substances are logged and purchases require a photo identification from purchasers. Individuals are also limited to 9 grams of these drugs in any 30-day period unless they have a prescription.
Putting pseudoephedrine behind the counter did have an effect on the number of methamphetamine labs.
"The numbers did go down," Glaser said. He estimated it had reduced the number of lab seizures by 40 to 45 percent.
"But we're seeing those numbers creep back up," he said.
Those who are determined to cook meth are finding ways to get around the obstacles put into place by HB-441. "These people are not going to stop what they're doing," Glaser said.
One method of circumventing the restrictions is "pill smurfing," a term used to refer to the practice of buying pills at multiple pharmacies and stores. Another method is to have friend each purchase as much pseudoephedrine as they are allowed to buy.
Local law enforcement agencies and the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association have an idea to make things even harder for meth cooks, however.
"We're trying to get legislators to move pseudoephedrine to a Schedule 3 controlled substance," Glaser said. This would mean products containing pseudoephedrine would require a prescription to get them. "It would have a big impact on controlling methamphetamine," he said.
Glaser said they realize it would be an inconvenience for some people but not a huge inconvenience as there are now plenty of effective cold medicines that don't contain pseudoephedrine.
In the meantime, cooperative efforts such as this week's operation will continue to address meth production from that angle.
"Pool our resources and attack the problem: that's where we get results," Glaser said. "Meth is still a problem -- it's not going away. It's still a problem."