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June 7, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Methamphetamine production and abuse continue to devastate parts of the heartland, especially in Missouri where the most meth-related arrests occurred in 2011. The state regained the No. 1 ranking in meth arrests last year and perpetuated its stereotype as the methamphetamine epicenter of the country.
Despite efforts from prevention and education programs, such as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and Prevention Consultants of Missouri, methamphetamine use remains high. In an agricultural state with a worsening problem, even more dangerous methods to produce methamphetamine are being developed, leading to widespread injuries and arrests.
In 2011, 20 percent of the U.S.’ meth-related arrests occurred in Missouri. The Missouri State Highway Patrol is responsible for locating and busting meth producers and users. Given that 1,889 of the country’s 9,051 meth-related arrests took place in Missouri last year, it’s clear that state troopers are familiar with methamphetamine production.
“Our numbers are going to stay high because we’re an agricultural state,” says Sergeant Paul Reinsch, a public information officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Reinsch cited Missourians’ access to anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer used to make meth, as one reason production continues to be such a problem.
However, Missouri legislation on pseudoephedrine prescriptions has made access to the key meth ingredient more difficult for producers. Pharmacies that want to sell pseudoephedrine have to use the National Precursor Log Exchange, a tracking system that logs how much pseudoephedrine a person has purchased that month. Individuals cannot purchase more than nine grams per month. The Missouri Pharmacy Association estimates NPLEx blocked more than 49,000 boxes of pseudoephedrine medication from being sold in 2011. According to the organization, this kept a total of 121,000 grams off the streets.
Tighter legislation on pseudoephedrine medication and better trained state troopers have led meth producers to adopt a cheaper but more dangerous way of making the drug. The trend has been dubbed the shake-and-bake method. It requires less pseudoephedrine. Producers purchase other ingredients such as lithium batteries and drain cleaner and then combine the materials in a container and start shaking.
Even experienced meth makers can face devastating consequences should this process go wrong. Essentially, they are making the equivalent of a small bomb by mixing up ingredients that become explosive when combined.
When this process goes awry, the container erupts into flames that can engulf the shaker’s face. At the burn unit of Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, approximately 35 patients are admitted per year after attempting the shake-and-bake method. That makes up 20 percent of all burn cases per year.
In 2009, 29 meth-related arrests were made in Boone County. The number declined to four arrests in 2011, which Reinsch attributes to law enforcement officials following up on leads to locate meth labs. Although metropolitan areas have the most meth-related arrests, meth production does occur in Boone County.
In August of 2011, a couple made news for producing meth in their home and endangering their 4-year-old son. On May 22, police discovered a meth lab in a room at Columbia’s Red Roof Inn. The Missouri Department of Social Services has seen significant increases since 2006 in the number of children placed in its custody following methamphetamine exposure. In 2010, 154 children across the state were placed in the custody of DSS because their parents were found to have a meth abuse problem.
“Meth is everywhere,” Reinsch says. “It’s just a matter of law enforcement tackling the issue one case at a time.”