Feb. 28, 2013. Criminals who make meth could face more time behind bars and be banned from having the drug’s main ingredient under a law that would help fight a recent surge in meth labs, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Wednesday.
“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.”
House Bill 29, which Cooper supports, was scheduled to be on the House floor last week. The measure 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.
Busts of meth labs in North Carolina reached a new high in 2012 as a simpler method for making small amounts of the drug spread statewide. 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.
The legislation, sponsored by Representatives Craig Horn, John Faircloth, Joe Tolson, and Sarah Stevens, would also mean stiffer sentences for criminals who make meth around children, seniors or the disabled.
“Meth labs of any size can be especially dangerous for kids and other vulnerable people. Too often, our agents find innocent children and seniors living in homes where meth is being made,” Cooper 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 child is 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.
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.
“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.
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 helping block illegal sales of pseudoephedrine and lead law enforcement to meth labs, Cooper said. North Carolina began using the system last year thanks to the support of the General Assembly. SBI agents and other officers analyze information from the system to identify potential suspects based on purchasing patterns or repeated attempts to make illegal buys.
North Carolina pharmacies started logging all purchases of pseudoephedrine products into NPLEx January 1, 2012, with nearly all pharmacies now participating. NPLEx automatically lets the retailer know if the buyer has reached the legal limit for pseudoephedrine purchases so the store can stop the sale.
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.