By Jesse Wood
July 16, 2012. Meth lab busts are on the rise again. If the current trend continues, this year will be another record-setting year. So far, N.C. law enforcement has busted 22 percent more labs as of June 30 compared to last year at the same time.
The 237 meth lab busts this year have already surpassed the 2010 total, according to data from the N.C. State Bureau of Investigations. In 2010, 235 labs were busted and 344 labs were busted last year.
The counties in and around the High Country have either seen a spike in lab busts or are on par with last year’s record-high numbers.
For example, both Watauga County, which had the second most labs in the state, and Ashe County are on par to match or exceed last year’s figures.
For Wilkes, Avery and Caldwell, all three will likely exceed last year’s totals – Wilkes and Caldwell already have.
Wilkes County has nearly doubled last year’s figures with 34 labs so far; Avery County has nearly matched last year’s six busts with five; and Caldwell has had eight lab busts this year – one more than last year.
And these figures don’t include the July 11 indictment of 20 individuals, the majority of whom reside in Wilkes County, charged with conspiracy to distribute, posses and manufacture more than 500 grams of meth.
In 2004 and 2005, lab busts in the state exceeded 300, but the following year’s amount of busts declined significantly and quickly fell to below 200 in 2006. This decline has been attributed to House Bill 248 in the General Assembly, which passed in September 2005 and limits access to pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth production. The bill limits purchases of certain products that contain pseudoephedrine to 2 products per transaction and no more than three product purchases in a month.
But since 2007, when 157 lab busts occurred, meth labs have increased steadily each year and by more than 50 percent during the past five years.
Van Shaw, a special agent in the SBI, cited a new tracking system called National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) with netting new arrests, according to North Carolina Health News. NPLEx offers real-time electronic tracking of purchases of Sudafed, which contains pseudoephedrine, and the N.C. General Assembly authorized the program last year. It came online in January, and North Carolina is among nearly half the states in the Union to adopt the tracking program.
Capt. Allen Reed, narcotics captain with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, could not be reached as of Monday afternoon.
For a High Country Press article last year, Reed and other law enforcement officials pointed towards the new method of making meth called shake-and-bake or one-pot. With this method, people use two-liter soda bottles to create meth. It also allows people to make meth with fewer and smaller quantities of ingredients and also allows mobility for meth labs.
“It’s becoming more popular with the new method of shake and bake,” said Reed told High Country Press last year.
In February, Attorney General Roy Cooper told United Press International that large-scale labs were declining, though shake-and-bake labs accounted for more than half of the busts. Cooper also added that the state’s first shake-and-bake lab bust happened in 2009.