Meth labs on decline, but not drug problem
OLYMPIA — The small
meth lab — a toxic, dangerous and squalid symbol of
the methamphetamine problem — is becoming a rarity
in Washington and around the country, but the drug
number of meth labs found in Washington dropped by
more than 50 percent last year — a decrease credited
in part to tough new laws that include restricting
over-the-counter sales of everyday cold and allergy
medications used to make methamphetamine.
But into the void
stepped Mexican-based drug organizations that ship a
purer, more addictive form of the drug — crystal
meth, also known as "ice." Officials now say 75
percent of the state's meth comes from outside its
borders, compared to an estimated 50 percent in
"As we have
controlled our domestic problem, our importation
problem has increased exponentially," said State
Patrol Detective Sgt. Gary Gasseling, who works with
the state's Meth Initiative, a coalition of
treatment, prevention and enforcement agencies.
"These people are very, very well-organized, very
well-connected and they know what they're doing.
This is big business for them."
Nearly 40 states,
including Washington, now have laws that restrict
over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine products;
in Oregon, a prescription is required.
In Oklahoma, the
first state to put allergy medications behind
pharmacy counters in 2004, meth-lab seizures fell 90
percent in a year. But that state's trafficking rose
Idaho has seen its
lab numbers fall as well in the past few years,
though its own law doesn't take effect until July,
and Maj. Dave Kane of the Idaho State Police said
there has been a slight upswing in the number of
labs they're finding this year.
"We are spending so
much time tracking down drug-trafficking
organizations, we haven't been able to be as
proactive on labs," Kane said.
officials don't have a definitive number of how many
trafficking cases they deal with a year, Capt. Mark
Couey said WSP's drug unit seized 14 pounds of
trafficked meth last year, compared with 3 pounds in
2004. Statewide, meth-trafficking seizures increased
from 101 pounds in 2001 to nearly 400 pounds last
year, he said.
At purity levels of
90 to 95 percent, crystal meth is much more
addictive than home-cooked powder meth.
The number of people
seeking treatment for meth addiction has been on a
steady increase for several years. The state treated
7,669 adults and 820 teens last year, compared to
6,379 adults and 717 teens the year before,
according to the state's Division of Alcohol and
And the number of
methamphetamine-involved deaths continues to rise:
176 deaths in 2002 to 257 last year. "The demand is
still there," Couey said. "That's the unfortunate
Attorney General Rob
McKenna said meth addiction is tied to everything
from identity theft and burglaries to a marked
increase in foster-care caseloads. "This is the
biggest problem to ever hit the state, period,"
McKenna said. "Meth wrecks families more frequently
and more completely than any drug we've ever seen."
State officials are
claiming some success. Even before the state passed
new laws last year that put pseudoephedrine products
behind the counter, officials had been successfully
targeting labs in Washington state, which has
regularly ranked near the top of the country in the
number of meth labs raided annually.
The number of labs
and dump sites has decreased from a high of 1,890 in
2000 to 806 last year.