By JIM SALTER
ST. LOUIS — Data from state officials shows Tennessee has surpassed Missouri in the number of meth lab busts and seizures for the first time since 2003.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said the state had 1,960 meth lab incidents in 2010. That’s a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
But Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force director Tom Farmer said Tuesday that his state had 2,082 incidents, up 41 percent from a year ago.
Meth lab incidents also jumped by nearly 300 in Indiana, to 1,395 in 2010.
A federal Drug Enforcement Agency spokeswoman said national meth lab incident numbers won’t be released until July. But officials in Tennessee and Missouri say colleagues in several neighboring states also are telling them of huge jumps in meth lab busts and seizures.
“Our increase is not nearly the increase we’re seeing in other Midwestern states,” said Jason Grellner, a Franklin County, Mo., officer and former president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association.
DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno said it is clear that the number of meth lab seizures and busts will rise sharply again for the third straight year. Experts cite two reasons: The emergence of “shake-and-bake” meth; and pill shoppers.
In the shake-and-bake production method, also known as one-pot, meth is made quickly in a 2-liter soda bottle.
“You think of a meth lab years ago with the Bunsen burners and beakers and all that stuff,” Hull said. “Then we had people using the tops of stoves and regular cookware. Now, they’re making meth in small plastic containers with duct tape in the backs of cars and trucks.”
Over the past few years, governments have increasingly monitored and set limits on the sale of cold and sinus infection medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a vital meth component. In January, The Associated Press reported that an unintended consequence of those laws has been an increase in people being recruited to buy the pills through a process known as “smurfing.”
“What we’re seeing is these meth cooks are hiring people to go out to the store and buy the pills,” Carreno said. “They may hire 20 to 25 people to shop for them. It’s created a new criminal class.” And some police say they are increasingly being forced to chase down the smurfers before getting to the actual meth makers.
“No question the smurfers are the key,” Farmer said. “That is the fuel.”
Last year, Mississippi joined Oregon as the only states with laws requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine products. More than 30 Missouri towns have passed prescription-only laws. Late last year, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, announced he would push for a statewide prescription law. State Rep. Dave Schatz, a Republican from Sullivan, submitted the bill last week with 64 co-sponsors.