Even after stricter laws regulating pseudoephedrine, the average amount of seized clandestine meth sites in Jasper County is seven per year.
Starting in 2005, pharmacies were required to record and report the purchase of pseudoephedrine products. All pharmacies were reporting to the National Precursor Log Exchange by Sept. 1, 2010. Since that time, 34 clandestine meth labs have been seized in Jasper County, six so far this year.
Brad Shutts, east commander for the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, said pseudoephedrine tracking laws work, and have had some success in Jasper County, with the help of the task force.
“Jasper County used to be one of the largest meth lab areas in the state,” Shutts said. “The support that you get out of all the 16 agencies is really helpful.”
Polk County averages 24 seizures per year, while Dubuque County averages 27 seizures a year.
Shutts noted clandestine labs aren’t necessarily mass production labs, but are usually “shake and bake” labs that require a small amount of pseudoephedrine and generate only a single dose of meth.
“The thing is these shake and bakes are so hazardous. They’re so flammable,” Shutts said. “You’re using lithium in a chemical reaction inside a plastic bottle. It just takes one screw-up and a garage or house or any structure is gone.”
More commonly seen in the Western region of the U.S. and Mexico is red phosphorus labs, which produce larger quantities of meth. Mexico’s restrictions on red phosphorus are lax.
In the U.S., drug tracking laws nationally and at the state level have curbed drug production, but not use.
“There are always loopholes,” Shutts said. “There’s always ways to get around the laws.”
Shutts said people will either slowly stock up on cold and allergy medicine to produce meth or have several people, who are called Smurfs, purchase the medicine for them. Shutts said that while the laws have helped the problem, the only way to truly eliminate meth production in the U.S. is to pull pseudoephedrine off the shelves completely.
“The world can survive without ephedrine but it’s a money maker for these pharmaceutical companies,” Shutts said.
Rep. David Loebsack said he’s worked closely with law enforcement and has worked as a legislator to remove meth, both production and use, from the streets.
“As a parent, it is heartbreaking to see the impacts meth, synthetic drugs, and other narcotics have had on far too many Iowa youth,” Loebsack said. “That’s why I helped beat back cuts to vital support for our local law enforcement to take drugs off our streets, shut down production, and make arrests. Iowa has taken significant steps to limit access to pseudoephedrine to those who use it to make meth while still ensuring medicine is available to law abiding Iowans. Production of meth is both a safety and health threat to our communities, and I will continue to work with our local law enforcement to shut down production in Iowa, stop importation from outside our state, and keep our kids safe.”
Shutts said the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Task Force is looking forward by removing children from homes that have been affected by meth. The Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children helps transition families and children who are affected by meth by removing the children from the home.
“We do what we can and we try, and we hopefully, make differences in people’s lives but it’s out of control,” Shutts said. “Ephedrine is the key. There’s other cold medicines.”
Steve Lukan, director of the Office of Drug Control, said the Drug Endangered Children program has benefits and applies not only to instances involving meth.
“We certainly think it’s been an overlooked issue. It’s very important for law enforcement and social services to work together and look inside these homes,” Lukan said.
In 2011, more than 400 children were removed from their homes and placed in safer locations. Lukan said he believes it’s had a big impact across the state.
“I’m big believer that if we keep youth away from drugs, the taxpayers get dividends for life,” Lukan said.
Staff writer Dave Hon may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.