Authorities disagree with recent report on lower meth useWORTHINGTON — A report recently published by the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH) documents reductions in the number of methamphetamine labs and meth users in Minnesota over the past few years, but local authorities warn this doesn’t mean meth has been beat.
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A report recently published by the Minnesota Department of Health (DOH) documents reductions in the number of methamphetamine labs and meth users in Minnesota over the past few years, but local authorities warn this doesn’t mean meth has been beat.
In fact, numbers are creeping back up, according to Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force (BRDTF) Commander Troy Appel and Senior Special Agent Bob Nance of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
“The legislation that placed limitations on pseudoephedrine and other precursors greatly reduced the number of meth labs almost nationwide,” Appel said. “However, lab numbers are creeping back up in the U.S. and Canada.”
The increase, he believes, is due in part to new and easier methods of producing meth and of obtaining the precursor chemicals.
“The legislation was just one step in combating the issue,” Appel stressed. “Some drug offenders find a way to stay one step ahead, so constant pressure and new angles of enforcement, education and prevention are required for law enforcement to remain effective.”
In the report from the state, Carol Falkowski, Chemical Health Division director for the DOH, attributes the decline in meth labs and meth use to enormous public response to the drug in the early 2000s.
“Communities all over the state mobilized and educated themselves about the scourge of meth abuse and addiction,” she stated. “The public response, combined with restricted sales of cold products and ongoing pressure from law enforcement, has resulted in these downward trends. This is excellent news.”
According to the report, the number of meth labs decreased by 92 percent between 2003 and 2007. The number of people in Minnesota state prisons due to meth offenses dropped by 15 percent between Jan. 1, 2006 and Jan. 1, 2008.
“I think law enforcement did an outstanding job putting cooks in jail, but a lot of them are going to be getting out in the next few years,” Nance said.
The anti-meth legislation in 2005 that put pseudoephedrine behind the counter in pharmacies and stores was a very good thing, Nance added. But it affected the small “ma and pa” labs more than the large labs.
“Ninety percent of our meth doesn’t come from the ma and pa labs,” he explained.
The super labs in California and Mexico are having a tougher time getting the meth into Minnesota, Nance said, but Worthington has more of “a direct pipeline because of the Hispanic population.”
Nance’s jurisdiction is southern Minnesota, and he has seen the price of meth go up, as has Appel.
“Local drug investigators documented 8-ball (an eighth ounce) meth purchases for as low as $50 prior to 2006,” Appel stated. “Since then BRDTF agents have documented those purchases for as much as $475.”
The rise in the price has agents believing the meth is getting harder to buy. Informants recently told agents that because of constant pressure by the drug task force, meth has become almost impossible to acquire in one local community.
But the drug is still being widely abused in the task force area, Appel said. The collateral crimes that go hand-in-hand with meth — robbery, burglary, thefts, assault and other violent crimes — are still out there.
In the two years the BRDTF has been in operation, they have made almost 200 drug offense arrests in or near southwest Minnesota. Nearly 60 percent of those arrested were charged with meth-related crimes. About 30 percent were marijuana related, seven percent were cocaine related, and three percent ranged from steroids to prescription drug abuse.
The task force has already investigated six labs in 2008.
Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore agreed that there has been a decline in meth lab cases in the past couple of years, which he believes can be partially attributed to the pseudoephedrine laws.
“It took away one whole method,” Moore said. “But there are other methods. I don’t want the public to believe there aren’t still labs out there.”
This is exactly what Appel and Nance are worried about.
“This isn’t something you can close your eyes to, thinking the problem is solved,” Nance stated. “We don’t want people thinking the problem is licked.”
Getting people better educated about the dangers of meth has made a difference, and the additional task forces and personnel have also helped slow the drug down. But with reports such as the one put out by the DOH, drug task forces have to be worried about their funding.
“Don’t think for a second we want to relax those laws,” Nance said.
If the laws governing the sale of pseudoephedrine are relaxed, Nance believes the pharmaceutical companies would be all over it.
“Those companies were making millions from meth labs,” he said. “It takes 1,000 to make an ounce of meth. They lost millions when the pseudo went behind the counters.”
Meth manufacturers, Appel stated, have targeted agricultural communities such as the ones in southwest Minnesota, because there is less concern of detection. Some cooks now have labs in parts, each in a different place.
“You can’t take one or two years of decrease and say we licked the problem,” Nance explained. “I just don’t see it going away.”
According to Appel, the powdered meth that first showed up in the area, called dirt meth, has been replaced by crystal meth, usually referred to as glass or ice. The crystal meth has a greater range of purity, from 5 to 90 percent, which poses a greater risk for overdose and death. Users can only determine the quality of meth through representations by their drug dealer or personal experience with use of a particular sample. Earlier this year, a young man died in Murray County of a meth overdose.
“They say we aren’t winning the war on drugs,” Nance said with a tired sigh. “Tell me a crime we have won the war on and we’ll all go home happy.”