By Jim Salter
ST. LOUIS — Methamphetamine lab seizures rose nationally again in 2011, further evidence the powerfully addictive and dangerous drug is maintaining a tight grip on the nation's heartland, according to an Associated Press survey of the nation's top meth-producing states.
Missouri regained the top national spot for lab seizures in 2011 with 2,096, the AP confirmed through the survey that also found Tennessee was second with 1,687, followed by Indiana with 1,437, Kentucky with 1,188 and Oklahoma with 902.
The total for Missouri lines up with numbers AP obtained this week from the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose data appeared to show meth lab seizures remained about even during the past two years. But the totals for each of the other states surveyed by AP are higher than the federal data.
Combined, the numbers indicate nationwide meth lab seizures rose at least 8.3 percent in 2011 compared to 2010.
The AP polled the states after obtaining the DEA breakdown of meth lab seizures by state for 2011 and finding that several had not yet reported full-year data.
Missouri had been the nation's No. 1 meth-producing state every year from 2003 until 2009 until falling behind Tennessee for one year. In 2011, a single Missouri county had more busts than Texas, Florida and California combined. Jefferson County, which is near St. Louis, tallied 253 seizures; the three other states had 219.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Hull attributed the state's consistently high seizure rate to law enforcement agencies' focus on addressing the meth problem.
"Is Missouri that much worse or does Missouri just take a more aggressive approach? I think Missouri law enforcement just aggressively deals with the issue," Hull said.
Indeed, Missouri and Kentucky are among a handful of high-meth states that developed their own programs to train local police to better handle meth cleanup and take the hazardous waste to container sites placed around the state.
The programs helped those states continue with busts after millions of dollars in federal funding set aside for cleanup suddenly was cut in February 2011. Many local police agencies in states without their own programs all but stopped seeking out meth labs because the local governments couldn't afford the cleanup cost.
An AP analysis in August found that the number of labs seized had plummeted by at least a third in several key meth-producing states within six months. The federal money then was restored late last year.
The pause in funding could make Missouri's reappearance as the No. 1 state for seizures somewhat misleading because busts in some states all but stopped for several months in 2011, meaning the figures don't reflect the depth of the problem, experts said.
"When we lost the funding Feb. 22 lab seizures fell approximately 75 percent," said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Meth Task Force. "They stayed down for the next four months."
Tennessee's state container program took effect July 1. "Then lab seizures rose 73 percent," Farmer said.
Farmer projected that if not for the loss of cleanup funds, Tennessee would have had in excess of 2,300 seizures last year. The state already had 200 seizures this year through Feb. 7.
The AP's tally of the top meth states is unofficial because while the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) compiles meth lab seizure data, some states are slow to report complete figures and final data for 2011 won't be made public until mid-year, said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.
However, the Missouri State Highway Patrol has access to the preliminary EPIC lab seizure data and provided it to AP this week.
That EPIC data showed Illinois sixth in lab seizures with 584. The remainder of the top 10 were: Iowa (382), Michigan (352), North Carolina (340) and South Carolina (265).
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press