The Indiana State Police seized more methamphetamine labs in 2010 than any previous year. It was the second consecutive year records were set in each methamphetamine-related category tracked by ISP.
Sgt. Paul Andry, who is in charge of meth lab investigations for the Southern half of Indiana, said there has been an increase in meth labs as manufacturers have found ways to skirt laws limiting how much pseudoephedrine an individual can purchase.
“They figured out they could send 20 people to buy one box [each],” he said.
ISP is using a new computer program to help identify patterns of so-called “smurf groups” of people working together to buy medicine used to make meth, but it has its limitations.
ISP handled or received reports from other agencies for 1,395 labs in 2010, an increase of 31 from the previous year. The number has steadily increased since 803 labs were seized in 2006. Police also identified 270 children affected by meth labs in 2010, and the number of arrests from labs has more than doubled since 2007 to 1,212 last year.
ISP seized 12 labs in Clark County — the second most ever — in 2010. Eight labs were found in Floyd County — the third highest total. Andry said another change is more labs being found in metropolitan areas and in cities like New Albany and Jeffersonville.
The growing problem is due in part to the “one-pot” method, in which meth is made by mixing chemicals in a 2-liter bottle. Andry said the method may appear harmless but is actually the most dangerous they have seen.
In the Evansville area, there have been five fires — one fatal — caused by meth lab explosions in little more than a month, Andry said.
The one ingredient required to make meth using any method is the pseudoephedrine. Andry said that as long as people are able to purchase the medicine simply by signing their names, there will always be a meth problem.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what we’re doing now isn’t working,” Andry said.
Budget constraints have been a problem with rehabilitation facilities closing or reducing services and not enough police officers certified to respond to all the labs being located.
“We’re saturated with meth labs,” he said. “We know there are more out there, but there’s only so many you can clean up.”
In Kentucky, the Senate is considering a bill to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug after a record number of busts last year. Several similar bills have been proposed in Indiana, and the House Public Health Committee is expected to consider those this week. Opponents of the legislation say the regulations would hurt law-abiding Hoosiers, especially those without insurance, while proponents say that is a necessary sacrifice.
Andry said he cannot give his personal opinion on the legislation, but he pointed to statistics from other states that have made pseudoephedrine a prescription drug. Mississippi saw a 68 percent decrease in meth labs the first six months, while Oregon dropped 72 percent in the first six months and 40 percent the following six months.
“It’s difficult for us to give up something we have that’s helping people with allergies or colds,” Andry said. “The thing you have to ask yourself is would you give up a cold medicine to save your child from living in deplorable conditions or burning up in a fire.”
Andry said he is especially concerned for border communities if Kentucky passes the law but Indiana does not.
“Our Southern border will absolutely be taken from people coming over from Kentucky to make meth,” he said.