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The meth problem

Posted Friday, March 14, 2008, at 4:49 PM

A meth lab bust in Gilliam this week has gotten a fair amount of attention, and reactions range from disappointment that sheriff's deputies haven't busted all the other meth labs in the area to congratulations for getting the one they did.

I suppose it sometimes seems like we're shoveling sand while the tide comes in, our reputation being what it is.

"In Missouri, meth lab busts declined from 1,288 in 2006 to 1,189 in 2007, but the state continues to lead the nation with the highest number of meth lab seizures. In Kansas, the number dropped from 165 to 86 over the same period." -- AP story, March 12.

But on March 1, the AP posted this story from the Columbia Tribune:

"Missouri: Not the meth capital"

As with all statistics, you have to look closely because there may be more to the story than appears at first glance. For example:

"But the statistics are misleading. For one thing, they don't measure quantity. In 2007, authorities confiscated roughly 40 kilograms of meth. Last year, California seized 221 labs, but netted 1,958 kilograms of meth, almost 50 times more than Missouri, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency Web site.

"Police describe Missouri's meth production as taking place in small 'meth circles' rather than large operations. Think of 'moonshine' meth operations, rather than factories, and you've got the picture."

(Click here for more information.)

It's still a disturbing picture. "Mom & Pop" meth labs are still meth labs, after all, and the effects of the drug are as bad if the stuff comes from a factory lab or a shed out back.

But it also suggests that the problem in Missouri is different than the big scare headline "Meth capital of the nation" might suggest. In some ways a bunch of little operations may be better. Sort of. Big operations of all kinds, legal and illegal, tend to have bigger, badder security measures. More guards. Bigger guns. Etc.

On the other hand, when law enforcement does manage to shut down a big operation, the effect is more dramatic. In one swoop they can put a dent (for a while) in the area drug trade.

Lots of little operations are like cockroaches. Stomping on one doesn't have much effect because there are a million more you can't see. So our law enforcement officers have to put in all the time of investigating drug labs but they don't get the same bang for their buck.

It's understandable that people in the area get frustrated with the inability of law enforcement to stamp out meth, but I think it's important to recognize the huge challenge they face and the near impossiblity of ever solving the problem completely.

Fortunately, the Missouri legislature is trying to help. In 2005, a new law was passed that made it harder for people making meth to last week a new law won approval from both houses that will attempt to improve upon the state's ability to track pseudoephedrine sales.

I saw Prosecuting Attorney Don Stouffer speak to a group last year, and he said the 2005 had been very useful for law enforcement. Perhaps the new law will give officers another boost in their efforts to battle meth production.

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The effect on our children is mind boggling. We have children who stay up all night to try to keep their parents from cooking meth. We've had parents who have blown up their houses with children in them to make money from meth. Our prisons are full of people who got hooked on this substance. I agree that alcohol is just as debilitating. It seems those with addiction disorders will always find their poison, but I hope we can find a solution for the innocent victims, their children.

-- Posted by oneofmany on Sun, Mar 30, 2008, at 1:28 PM

Thanks cjay. I think you have a good point about the difficulty of solving the problem: Drugs are profitable (and tax-free!) so the temptation to set up shop will always be with us. It's really independent of specific drugs, too. Alcohol, when it was illegal, was the drug of choice for the black market at one time. I sometimes wonder if illegality is the main problem. Maybe if all drugs were legal but regulated we'd be better off. Even that would not be a complete solution, of course, because we already have black market dealers in prescription drugs. In fact, I doubt there is a complete solution to the problem. People throughout history have indulged in drug use. But society has an interest in managing that indulgence, as I suspect all societies throughout history have, using various methods and with various degrees of success.

-- Posted by Eric Crump on Sat, Mar 22, 2008, at 8:57 AM


This is a good article! I have disagreed with you on most things, but I must agree on this. I first thought that maybe Missouri was the meth capital of the world in per capita percentages. I looked into that and found that California has just over six (just over 36 million) times the population as Missouri (just under 6 million). Since California has 50 times the amount of meth collected than Missouri then my thought didn't add up. I do wish there were a way for Missouri to shut down all of the meth labs in Missouri and all states for that matter. I know funding is always an issue, so for all of those who have great ideas on how law enforcement can accomplish this on current funding please provide your solutions. I still think they let to many people off with a slap on the wrist because of who they are, so maybe they should start imposing stiffer penalties for those they do catch and it would deter others from taking part in the production of meth. Then again, drugs are an easy way to make money so maybe the risk will always be worth the reward to these people.

-- Posted by cjay on Fri, Mar 21, 2008, at 1:24 AM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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