State Rep. Sarah Stevens co-authored a bill that she hopes will stop the surge in meth labs in Surry County.
House Bill 29 would make it a felony for any convicted meth cook to possess products containing pseudoephedrine, found in some cold medicines and the key ingredient needed to make the highly addictive illegal drug methamphetamine.
“Criminals who make meth would face more time behind bars and be banned from having the drug’s main ingredient,” said Stevens.
“I also support and seek stiffer sentences for criminals who make meth around children, seniors or the disabled,” she said.
Statewide, 120 children were removed from homes where meth was being manufactured last year, up from 82 in 2011. So far this year, 14 children have been found living around meth labs. When a children are removed from a meth lab home, their clothing, toys and other belongings usually have to be destroyed because of the hazardous fumes given off during the cooking process.
Busts of meth labs in North Carolina reached a new high in 2012. State Bureau of Investigation agents responded to 460 meth labs in 2012, compared to 344 meth labs in 2011 and 235 labs in 2010. Agents have busted more than 70 labs so far in 2013.
Approximately 73 percent of the meth labs busted in North Carolina last year used the “one pot” method, which uses a small amount of pseudoephedrine to cook meth in a plastic soda bottle. The new law would make it illegal for a convicted meth cook to have any pseudoephedrine, even the small amount needed for a one pot lab.
According to records, Wilkes County leads the state in meth labs busts, while Surry County recorded four times as many busts in 2012.
Attorney General Roy Cooper supported House Bill 29.
“Meth labs threaten our communities with crime, addiction, and even fires, explosions and toxic chemicals,” Cooper said. “We’re working hard to find and stop these dangerous drug labs, and stronger laws will help us.”
Cooper is also asking legislators for five more SBI agents to respond to meth labs. The SBI is the only agency in North Carolina with agents who are specially trained and equipped to dismantle meth labs safely.
Five SBI agents currently work full time responding to meth labs, two fewer agents than in 2007 due to state budget cuts. To meet the increased work load, the SBI has trained other agents throughout the state to assist in the dismantling and disposal of meth labs on top of their full-time assignments.
When asked if she would support funding five additional agents to help fight meth labs, Stevens said that she would support the request under certain conditions.
“We have to examine the budget. Nobody doesn’t want to see meth labs. If we have agents dedicated to fighting meth, we should fund it, but we can’t sacrifice other crime fighting efforts either. I need to examine the entire budget,” said Stevens.
“Better laws and technology can help, but we need more agents to respond to the rise in meth labs and investigate suspected meth manufacturers and traffickers,” Cooper said.
According to Cooper, in addition to busting more labs, the added agents would expand meth investigations using a new electronic system to track pseudoephedrine purchases.
The tracking system, called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), is used to block illegal sales of pseudoephedrine and lead law enforcement to meth labs. The system is used to identify potential suspects based on purchasing patterns or repeated attempts to make illegal buys in pharmacies.
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. The amount of pseudoephedrine blocked could have been used to make 277 pounds of meth.
The NPLEx system now connects North Carolina with three neighboring states and 20 others nationwide, making it harder for meth cooks to skirt the law by crossing state lines or shopping at multiple pharmacies.
In addition to Stevens, House Bill 29 was also co-authored by Representatives Craig Horn, John Faircloth, and Joe Tolson. The bill now awaits Senate approval.
“I am optimistic this bill will be passed by the Senate within 30-days,” said Stevens.
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