Meth busts up in Ashe
Last modified: Jan. 10
While the method of making methamphetamine has changed in recent years, state and local authorities warn that the dangers associated with the drug should not be taken any less seriously.
On Tuesday, the N.C. Department of Justice reported meth lab busts reached a new high in the Tar Heel state in 2012.
The State Bureau of Investigation responded to 460 labs in 2012, compared to 344 labs in 2011 and 235 in 2010.
In Ashe County during 2012, clandestine labs increased from four to seven compared to the previous year.
“That's a pretty (big) amount for a place like Ashe County,” said Ashe Sheriff James Williams.
Part of the reason for the surge statewide is attributed to the prevalence of the “one-pot” or “shake-and-bake” method used in manufacturing the drug.
By using a small amount of pseudoephedrine — a precursor chemical for the drug found in cold medicine — criminals can now cook meth in a plastic two-liter bottle, said the DOJ.
Of the 460 clandestine labs busted in 2012, approximately 73 percent used the one-pot method, said the DOJ.
“Now that they have to the shake-and-bake system, it is has become a lot easier to conceal,” said Williams. “Probably for every one that we catch, another dozen slip by us. We stay on them all we can.”
While this style of cooking produces smaller batches of finished product, the DOJ warned of potentially deadly side effects of the volatile mixture.
A DOJ press release cautioned that meth labs could cause fires and explosions, as well as produce hazardous fumes and waste.
A new electronic system of tracking of pseudoephedrine purchases, known as the National Precursor Log Exchange, blocked a total of 54,000 purchases in North Carolina last year, said the DOJ.
The system links North Carolina pharmacies with neighboring states and 20 others nationwide to help retailers know if the buy has reached the legal limit of pseudoephedrine so the purchase can be stopped, said the DOJ.
Although newly passed state legislation has made it more difficult for criminals to access the store-bought chemicals necessary for cooking, it has also made them more creative in how they get their hands on precursor chemicals.
“The electronic tracking system has slowed down (manufacturing) some, but they circumvent by having a lot of different people travelling county to county buying their daily legal limit,” said Williams. “They still get around, but it takes more time and is more trouble to do so.”
While the number of labs busted in Ashe County is still an area of concern for local authorities, it pales in comparison when stacked up against other counties.
Wilkes County led the state in lab responses with a total of 59. Neighboring Watauga County had 14 lab responses.
Traditionally, Western North Carolina and rural counties have led the state in terms of lab busts.
In 2011, it was Burke County that led the state with 34 busts.
“At one time, maybe about 10 or 12 years ago, Ashe County was Number 2 in the state in meth labs,” said Williams. “Then, folks down state, who hadn't had any problems with meth in the past … the next thing you know, it's there. It just grows like a fungus.”