DAYTON -- Meth lab busts, which dropped sharply after federal regulations went into effect nine years ago, are on the rise once again, though the size of the average lab has dropped -- to the size of a 32-ounce soda bottle.
’’This continues to be a problem,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “It’s, today, relatively easy to do this. People can do it and they can do it relatively simply.”
That rise helped Ohio become the 25th state to mandate the use of a national database to track the sales of products including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, generally used as a base ingredient in all meth manufacturing. As of June 1, 99 percent of pharmacies statewide were compliant, according to DeWine’s office.
Though the highly addictive drug still lags behind cocaine and heroin locally, the rise is still disturbing, according to John Burke, commander of the Greater Warren County Drug Task Force, as newer methods require less space and equipment, and are more mobile. Though newer methods make less meth, they are also cheaper, and still potentially explosive.
’’It’s still highly flammable and dangerous,” Burke said.
Ohio numbers match national trends. Across the country, meth lab incidents peaked in 2004 at 24,155. By 2007, they dropped to 6,951, according to the Government Accountability Office. But by 2010, they climbed back up to 15,314.
In Ohio, there were 669 incidents in 2005, 232 in 2007, but 364 in 2011, according to the same data.
Recent Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation statistics show the trend is continuing. BCI, which uses the federal fiscal year for statistical purposes, tracked 607 meth lab incidents between October 2011 and October 2012, according to Jill Del Greco, spokeswoman for DeWine’s office. Between last October and May 29, there were 575, she said, so the state is on track to have a higher number this year.
Methamphetamine can be made using easily obtainable household goods and chemicals. The main ingredient is ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, also the main ingredient in many over-the-counter decongestants. There are different “recipes” for making meth. In Mexico and California, gangsters operate “super labs,” large operations where large amounts are manufactured to be spread across the country, according to the GAO.
But in other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, there are smaller labs, run by local “cooks.” One of the biggest changes, according to authorities, is the rise “one pot” or “shake and bake” method. Traditionally, labs were larger affairs. Due to the size, and the obvious chemical smells, they were usually in rural areas.
But with “shake and bake,” the ingredients are mixed into a 32-ounce soda bottle. That means “labs” -- with their potentially explosive and toxic contents -- are showing up in urban areas, in cars, in apartments, DeWine said.
’’They can do this in a small area,” DeWine said. “There’s a proliferation of them.”
Just two weeks ago, two incidents caused evacuations after lab’s were discovered. During the first, on June 1, Dayton police interrupted a man who was doing the “shake and bake” in his basement.
One day later, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base police shut down a portion of Col. Glenn Highway after they found a traveling meth lab in a trailer attached to a pickup truck.
In Champaign county, Urbana police found a sizeable meth lab in April. That lab consisted of several pop bottles containing meth-making substances stashed under the home’s crawl space. Three children also lived in the home.
By making the meth in pop bottles, the operation becomes easier to conceal -- but also more dangerous, Urbana Police Lt. Seth King said at the time of the bust.
The original drop in meth lab incidents is generally attributed to changes in federal and many state laws, requiring the tracking of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine sales. Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which set daily and monthly sales limits for customer purchases: 3.6 grams daily or 9 grams monthly per customer.
Jeff Bartone, vice president at Hocks Vandalia Pharmacy in Vandalia, Ohio, said that a box of 96 tablets of 30 mg totals 2.8 grams.
Ohio’s law allowed DeWine’s office to negotiate with the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, which runs the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx). The database, funded by corporate drug manufacturers, allows pharmacists to enter sales information and will issue a “do not sell” notice if someone is above the federal limits. It will also allow law enforcement to use the data to track patterns and gather evidence, particularly if a gang is “smurfing,” which means sending different people in to stores to get around the federal limits.
Burke, who is also president of NADDI, and said Ohio’s participation will help greatly. About 60 percent of the Ohio vendors were already in the database before the law passed, Burke said, largely chains who had to implement the program in other states.
’’Now we have 100 percent coverage, which makes our job easier,” Burke said. “Prosecutions should go up because of this.”
The law required all pharmacies to be online by June 1. Del Greco said “maybe a dozen or so” had not implemented, and the attorney general’s office would be checking to see whether those stores had technical problems or had stopped selling those products.