McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

December 30, 2010

Law enforcement tries to match pace in meth battle

Agency asking for more positions to fight illegal drugs

By Trevor Brown
CNHI

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."

Seeking more help

To administer new enforcement efforts, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs will be petitioning the Legislature for 21 new full-time position next year.

The request asks for new agents to lead more education programs, target prescription-drug abusers and focus efforts on stopping Mexican cartels from moving drugs into the state.

Woodward said one of the consequences of the state crackdown is that there are greater concerns of methamphetamines entering across the border.

"More agents would help prevent Oklahoma from becoming a hub of (the cartel's) operations," he said. "The state is attractive because of its proximity and access of highways to other (parts of the country)."

Woodward said the positions do not require any new money from the state. Legislative approval is needed to add positions to the agency even though the money is being reassigned within the bureau for the new uses.

Prevention as a crime-fighting tool

Jeanne Anson became addicted to methamphetamines about two decades ago. She said people underestimate how quickly the drug can take over your life.

"You literally can get hooked with a one-time use," she said. "It can then take two years of abstinence to fully recover, and so many people can't go through that."

Anson, who recovered from the drug, now leads the Oklahoma chapter of Mothers Against Methamphetamine in Tulsa. From her personal experience and work assisting addicts find help, she said the state should be focused on stopping people before they ever get hooked on the drug.

"The best thing we can do is talk about it and provide education because a lot of people don't understand the real damage it can do," she said. "This is not something that just street people use. Mothers can get hooked on it while trying to lose weight or get extra energy. That is how it starts, and then it ends up destroying them."

Woodward said he agrees and that is why the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control is putting more emphasis on prevention. He said the five new positions that are requested for that purpose would help meet the need.

"We get so many requests from schools (for prevention programs) that we have to turn down many of them," he said. "So many people are just starving for the information."

Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at tbrown@cnhi.com.



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What is methamphetamine?

- It is a synthetic stimulant that creates strong feelings of euphoria.

- It is highly addictive.

- It can be eaten, smoked, injected or snorted.

- Its slang terms include meth, ice, crystal and crank.

- Side effects include brain damage, blood clots, depression and death

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration



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Oklahoma methamphetamine lab seizures by year:

2003: 1,233

2004: 846

2005: 143

2006: 149

2007: 153

2008: 213

2009:  743

2010: 750 (estimated)

Source: Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control



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Adults seeking substance abuse treatment in Oklahoma who listed methamphetamine as their drug of choice:

2000 – 3,383

2001 – 4,149

2002 – 4,390

2003 – 4,454

2004 – 5,173

2005 – 5,415

2006 – 5,450

2007 – 4,997

2008 – 4,194

2009 – 4,203

2010 – 3,745

Source: Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services



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Oklahoma clients served for methamphetamine use by race in fiscal year 2010:

White: 83.8 percent

American Indian: 9.8 percent

Asian: .3 percent

Black: 1.6 percent

Multi-race: 3.9 percent

Unknown/other: .6 percent

Source: Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services