Although methamphetamine lab seizures and arrests declined nationwide in 2012, it’s far too early to consider the problem solved.
Last week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration provided statistics to The Associated Press that showed 12,694 meth lab incidents were reported around the country last year, down 5.5 percent from the 13,390 reported in 2011. It marked the second straight year that the numbers had declined, as the nation recorded 15,196 meth lab incidents in 2010.
However, analysts warn that two consecutive years of declining numbers do not necessarily constitute a trend. It’s too early to declare that the meth problem is going away.
Illinois has more reason than most states to maintain its vigilance against this scourge. Our state had the fifth-highest number of meth lab incidents among all states last year with 799.
Adding to Illinois’ problem, our neighboring state of Missouri has been the leader in meth lab incidents every year but one since 2003, and it again topped the list with 1,960 incidents in 2012. One Missouri county alone – Jefferson County, south of St. Louis – had 346 incidents.
While it’s true that the number of “traditional” meth labs being uncovered has been in decline around the country, it’s also true that more meth manufacturers are turning to low-tech methods of “cooking” the drug, such as the so-called “one-pot” or “shake and bake” technique that allows them to make meth in a soda bottle.
As dangerous as the traditional meth labs are to occupants of the houses where they are located, particularly children and neighbors, the portable meth labs have the potential to spread contamination and injury almost anywhere a vehicle or person can go.
And while many drugs pose problems in urban areas, meth often rears its ugly head in rural communities. This makes detection and intervention more difficult, because the labs often are spread out over wide areas of Illinois, where they can be concealed easily.
It’s also worth noting that the DEA says some states already are reporting increases in meth lab seizures and arrests so far in 2013.
Illinois has tried to crack down on the meth problem by passing laws that make it more difficult for someone to buy pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in its manufacture, but authorities say the meth makers continue to find ways around such laws, often by using fake IDs.
Still, we have little choice but to continue enforcement efforts, as well as programs to treat meth addicts. We need to get meth labs off the streets and out of the small towns, but we won’t be able to incarcerate our way out of this problem. Education, intervention and treatment programs must be improved. The lower numbers of seizures are good news, but it’s far too early to let our guard down.
The (Alton) Telegraph