OKLAHOMA CITY —
By Trevor Brown
CNHI Capital Bureau
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma narcotics officials expect to finish 2010 with the most methamphetamine lab seizures in six years.
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward said the state numbers are projected to rank slightly higher than the 743 labs that were broken up in 2009.
Fewer labs have been operating since a 2004 state law restricted the sale of cold medicines commonly used to make the drug. But labs have started to proliferate again since the end of 2008.
The state averaged about 165 methamphetamine lab busts between 2005 and 2008, Woodward said. The recent increase, he said, is attributed to drugmakers and smugglers applying new strategies to counter the state's efforts.
Specifically, "one-pot" or "shake-and-bake" labs are being used to allow methamphetamine cooks to make the drug with smaller amounts of pseudoephedrine cold medicine, which is a main ingredient to make the drug. The smaller operations have allowed many drugmakers to skirt the 2004 law that limits purchases of the medicine to 9 grams in a 30-day period.
Ray Miller, program director at The Oaks Rehabilitative Services drug treatment center in McAlester, said methamphetamine remains a huge problem in the state. He said he sees a steady number of users seeking help at the center.
"The dealers immediately seem to counter whatever the new laws create," Miller said. "You hear a lot about the shake and bake method, because it is pretty easy to do and to conceal, which makes it tough on law enforcement."
New Laws, enforcement methods
Officials hope a new state law will make it harder for illegal drugmakers to purchase the ingredients.
House Bill 3380 went into effect Nov. 1 and created the nation's first Methamphetamine Offender Registry. The database blocks anyone with a methamphetamine-related conviction from purchasing or possessing pseudoephedrine tablets.
Woodward said this will strengthen the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotic's Pseudoephedrine Tracking System. He said the system stopped about 68,000 pseudoephedrine sales last year with just the previous restriction limiting the amount of the cold medicine that can be purchased at a time.
Although early numbers on the new restrictions are not available, Woodward said many potential methamphetamine cookers have been prevented from securing the ingredients.
"We've ran a lot names in the first two months and many had meth or criminal backgrounds," he said. "And this told us what we thought ... and that is that these aren't people just suffering from colds."
Police departments also are revising their strategies to keep up with the illegal activity.
Beginning in September, the Muskogee Police Department launched "Operation Papa Smurf" that netted dozens of methamphetamine-related arrests. Muskogee Police Department Cpl. Pedro Zardeneta said the campaign largely targeted "smurfs," which is street slang for the person who gathers the chemicals to cook methamphetamines.
"Because of the new methods they are using, we had to shift our focus to the labs and the people assisting them," he said. "As with all criminal activity, we need to think outside the box and keep the guys on their toes."