When it comes to meth, stats and officers tell different stories

Look at the statewide numbers, and it’d be tempting to conclude that the methamphetamine scare has come and gone in Kansas.

Methamphetamine incidents, which include drug lab seizures and discoveries by law enforcement, have decreased in Kansas in the past decade: from 847 in 2001 to 159 so far in 2011. In Douglas County, such incidents are rare, averaging a little more than three per year since 2006, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

And while the state ranks 14th nationally in such incidents, Kansas is nowhere near neighboring Missouri, which leads the country with more than 1,700 so far in 2011.

Talk to law enforcement agencies in southeast Kansas, and they’ll tell a different story.

“It’s just everywhere,” said Christopher Williams, a detective with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re just drowning in it.”

Montgomery County has seen methamphetamine incidents more than double so far in 2011 compared with 2010, which ranks it second in the state, behind Labette County.

It’s not just the incident numbers that reflect how big the problem is, said David Groves, sheriff for Cherokee County. Groves said he sees the effect of methamphetamine use in other crimes associated with the drug, such as sex crimes, burglaries and other thefts.

“It’s plagued our county,” Groves said. “We deal with it every day.”

‘They’re very crafty’

Law enforcement officials in several of the rural Kansas counties that lead the state in methamphetamine incidents attribute increases to the ease with which the drug can be made.

In the last few years, Labette County Sheriff Robert Sims said they’ve seen what is referred to as “one-pot” or “shake and bake” methamphetamine-producing methods. Sims said you could drive around his county and in 15 minutes, legally obtain the needed ingredients, which are then added into a plastic bottle and shaken up, starting the chemical process to make methamphetamine.

“It’s revolutionized a lot of the process,” said Sims of advances in production, which no longer require sophisticated equipment or expertise in drug making. Sims also advises caution when examining the statistics, as one confiscated shake and bake bottle could be categorized as one incident, as could a large lab discovery that would produce a large quantity of methamphetamine.

Regardless of the method, methamphetamine makers still need a steady supply of pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter cold medication, and are finding ways around a Kansas law that limits purchase of the substance. A 2005 law limits the amount of pseudoephedrine one person can purchase in a month, and purchases are tracked by pharmacies — who share information with law enforcement.

Loretta Severin, drug strategy coordinator for the KBI, says that the pseudoephedrine law has helped curb methamphetamine production in Kansas. But the increase in shake and bake and one-pot methamphetamine production, which require smaller amounts of pseudoephedrine, is a cause for concern statewide.

“It’s definitely starting to spread,” she said.

Regardless of state laws, methamphetamine producers will get creative.

“They’re very crafty,” Severin said. “They’re making do with what they can get.”

It leaves law enforcement in a constant — and thus far losing — game of keeping up with methamphetamine, Sims said.

“I think it’s going to be a continued problem,” he said.

By Shaun Hittle


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