Wilkes County leads the state in meth labs busts, while Surry County recorded four times as many busts in 2012.
“The North Carolina counties with the most meth lab busts in 2012 were: Wilkes (59 labs), Wayne (27 labs), Catawba (26 labs); Burke (24 labs); and Anson (21 labs),” said Attorney General Roy Cooper. “Wilkes, Catawba, Cleveland, Onslow and Surry counties saw the largest increase in meth labs compared to 2011.”
State Bureau of Investigation agents responded to 460 meth labs throughout North Carolina in 2012, compared to 344 meth labs in 2011 and 235 labs in 2010.
Surry County recorded 16 busts for 2012, quadrupling from 2011, SBI records show.
Approximately 73 percent of the meth labs busted in 2012 used the “one pot” method, also known as shake and bake labs, which make smaller amounts of meth than previously seen larger meth labs.
Electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases is credited as being an effective tool for Wilkes and Surry helping to stop illegal sales and leading law enforcement to more meth labs, but not a way to track drug use, say police.
“The rise in arrest numbers shows good law enforcement,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham H. Atkinson when discussing the increase. “Meth labs are out there and we know it.”
Not all police departments have arrests for meth production. “We have not had any arrests for meth labs in Elkin,” said Captain Leonard of the Elkin Police Department.
However, experts say it’s something police have to search for. Criminals are opting to cook meth in a less sophisticated lab process to evade detection, a plastic soda bottle that uses a small amount of pseudoephedrine, the illegal drug’s key ingredient found in cold medicine. The process is fast, highly mobile, and produces little waste or evidence for the cook to dispose of, though it remains deadly.
“Almost all the labs found in Surry County arrests were one pot meth labs,” Sheriff Atkinson said. “It’s hard to detect, but we know they’re out there and we are going after them.”
Combating the problem requires taking away the drug active ingredient.
Approximately 54,000 purchases, a total of more than 66,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine, were blocked last year in North Carolina by pharmacies using the system, called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx). “The amount of pseudoephedrine blocked could have been used to make 277 pounds of meth,” said Attorney General Cooper.
North Carolina pharmacies began using the system January 1, 2012 to log all purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine, and nearly all pharmacies are now participating in the program. NPLEx automatically lets the retailer know if the buyer has reached the legal limit for pseudoephedrine purchases so the store can stop the sale.
North Carolina law limits purchases of products that contain pseudoephedrine to no more than two packages at once and no more than three packages within 30 days.
“A Purchaser must show a photo ID and sign a log,” said local pharmacist Lori Wyble from Elk Pharmacy in downtown Elkin. “The pills are placed behind the pharmacy counter. We log into NYPLEx, submit the information, and we wait for approval.”
SBI agents and other officers analyze information from NPLEx to identify potential suspects based on purchasing patterns.
“There are things the public can look for that can help us,” continued Sheriff Atkinson. “Some of the arrests come from tips. If they dispose of the one pot, they’ll usually burn it. If you know someone that you suspect cooking meth because at a particular time you observe the same group of people at a location, or if they have a burn barrel in their backyard, even if you smell an odar you are unfamiliar with, call us.
“If you think someone is burning something, don’t go over and look at it,” warned the county’s top cop, “because the only thing more dangerous than a cooking meth lab is a burning meth lab.”
The public is urged to contact the Sheriff’s office at 401-8900 and ask for the narcotics office.
“It helps when the public connects with law enforcement,” said Sheriff Atkinson, “because it can be the last piece of the pie needed to make an arrest.”
A Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson indicated to The Tribune that “our officers are really focused on the issue.”