Jump in meth lab busts in Tennessee linked to Mexico crackdown
By: AP, staff reports
From AP, staff reports
CHATTANOOGA — Methamphetamine lab busts in Tennessee increased for two months after a two-year decline, a change that officials say is due partly to Mexico getting stricter with illegal drug makers and smugglers.
Although the count of meth labs seized this year in Tennessee is down, the numbers jumped in July and August amid increased border seizures, recent busts of Mexican “superlabs” and tougher restrictions on ingredients used to make the addictive stimulant.
“It has put a lot of pressure back on domestic producers in the United States,” said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.
Farmer said meth demand is higher than ever in Tennessee.
The number of meth labs reported in Tennessee this year is slightly down, at 447 through Sept. 30, compared to 500 in the same period last year, but July and August interrupted a reduction started when the state restricted a key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, in 2005.
The 62 seized labs reported for August in Tennessee were the most of any month since 63 reported in April 2006, task force records show. There were 27 labs reported in August last year. The records show 53 seized labs reported statewide in July, compared to 40 in July 2006.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said local law enforcement is seeing an increase in “Mexican meth,” a more pure form of meth also known as “ice,” which is being brought across the border and up into West Tennessee.
“On the whole, the homemade labs are down. We contribute that to the ephedrine ban, where people have to register (for the drug),” Vastbinder said. “But we’re seeing a higher importation of out-of-country meth. Overall, the state is actually down from last year and, overall, Obion County is down, but for what we’re seeing, we’re getting more of the ‘ice’ than the local homemade stuff.”
Drug Enforcement Adminis-tration records show Tennessee accounted for 75 percent of the methamphetamine lab seizures in the Southeast in 2005 and the numbers have dropped significantly since passage of the Meth-Free Tennessee Act and the federal Combat Meth Act of 2005.
The DEA says Tennessee’s meth problem is compounded by its unique geography, with borders on eight other states and highways crisscrossing the state’s four major cities to provide easier transportation of drugs.
U.S. Attorney James “Russ” Dedrick in Knoxville said the 2-month increase in labs reported reflects that the U.S. and Mexico “have cracked down jointly” on meth producers, smugglers and pseudoephedrine, which is used legally as a decongestant, in Mexico and border states.
“That has put a crimp on the market of Mexican importation into the United States,” Dedrick said. “We have seen an increase in labs” in Tennessee as a result.
Records show the Tennessee busts dropped in September, with 39 reported this year. That is down from 51 in September 2006.
“I think we’ll see hot spots come and go,” Dedrick said. He said in addition to working the highways, Tennessee’s meth task force and all police agencies are trained to deal with the labs, which expose people to toxic chemicals and must be treated as hazardous waste sites.
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said in late June that superlabs in Mexico and Mexican-run labs in some American border states were supplying most of the meth, using bulk shipments of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine originating mostly in China, India and Germany.
Meth enforcement officials in Oklahoma and Missouri, two other states where restrictions on pseudoephedrine and monitoring sales have greatly reduced illegal drug-making, said they had not seen any recent increases in meth labs.
A congressional report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in September shows seizures of methamphetamines along the U.S.-Mexican border increased fivefold over five years to 3 tons in 2006.
On Sept. 1, Mexico began requiring prescriptions for medicines containing pseudoephedrine and blocked over-the-counter sales.
Steve Robertson, a DEA special agent in Washington, D.C., said Tennessee’s 2-month increase in labs is a short measuring stick but he agreed the enforcement effort is having an impact on smuggling of illegal drugs, including methamphetamine.
“DEA and our Mexican counterparts, we have scored some major blows against these drug trafficking organizations in 2007,” he said.
On the Net:
Tennessee Meth Task Force: http://www.rid-meth.org/
DEA Meth: http://www.dea.gov/concern/meth.html Published in The Messenger 10.23.07