Meth lab numbers on the rise in SW Oklahoma

Lawton_Just when you thought meth labs were on the decline in Southwest Oklahoma, new figures indicate otherwise - in fact, they're on the rise.  The state's landmark Trooper Green Law led to a large reduction in the number of meth labs in 2005-2006, but only a few years later, those numbers are once again growing as law enforcement agencies work to stay on top of the trend.

Two leading authorities on the subject both believe that the public is leading them to more drug manufacturers than in years past - but, meth addicts have found new ways to obtain products used to make the drug.

The record number of labs in Lawton was set in 2002 when 38 were discovered.  By 2006, after the Trooper Green Law restricted the sale of pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in manufacturing meth - authorities only found three labs.  "We are no longer finding what we call 'superlabs' or large labs where a manufacturer is actually cooking to sell his sell methamphetamine," says Lawton Special Operations Detective David Schucker.

Stephens County's drug task force saw similar results after the new law, but never reduced the number of the county's addicts.  "It never really combated the addiction," says Justin Scott with the District 6 Drug Task Force.  "It's very tough to combat the addiction, because once somebody's hooked on it, they're going to remain hooked on it."

Addicts will also find alternative ways to manufacture meth.  Schucker says meth users and manufacturers have come up with a way to beat the law - it's called "smurfing."  Now, they work in numbers.  "What they do now is instead of buying it by the case, they'll get several individuals to come together and they'll go into the store one at a time and each by a box or a bottle of pseudoephedrine," says Scott.  "They come back to where the cooks going and they have just as many as what one person could purchase prior to the law."

Narcotics officers are onto the scheme, and a new computer network will soon show who is purchasing pseudoephedrine, and where they are getting it, in real time.  However, once they have it, and begin to make the meth, the public can help.  "We've started educating the public," says Scott.  "We've started teaching to civic groups, we've started teaching firefighters, utility crews about what to look for.  We're still dealing with violent people sometimes, but the good thing is we've curbed the flow of meth into our community, and now we're working on the smaller cooks to try and put a stop to it all together."

Schucker says some meth cooks are so desperate to get a hold of pseudoephedrine that they will trade their finished product for more pills.  Last year there were 16 meth labs in Lawton, and so far this year they have already busted eight - on pace with last year's figures.