LOUISVILLE, Ky.- The message about methamphetamines was simple for sheriffs from around the nation who gathered to exchange ideas about curbing production: Law enforcement needs help.
"Methamphetamine is not just another drug. It's not just a passing fad that will be taken over by another," said Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain. "It's not a law enforcement phenomenon. It's a community problem."
Sheriffs from across the nation went to the National Sheriffs Association's annual conference, which began on Sunday, to discuss such topics as meth and the ongoing battle with prescription drug abuse.
At the heart of the meth discussion was finding easier ways to find labs. Cain said one of the ways is following trash such as discarded Sudafed boxes, punctured ether cans and the wrappings of lithium batteries _ all ingredients used to make meth.
"How many of you ever saw fit to take a battery apart? No one does that unless you're making methamphetamine," he said. "There is no legitimate reason to do it."
Because meth is made easily from ingredients found legally, manufacturers can produce meth in an array of locations, Cain said. Law enforcement have found labs in apartments, sheds and self-storage units.
The ease with which it is made also makes the labs difficult to find, said Steven Bruce, a sheriff from Polk County, Mo. The distinctive "chemical" smell associated with labs often isn't enough to lead police to them.
Bruce said deputies in his department have contacted the people who pick up trash in his county to tell them what to look for and asked them to pull bags from some locations suspected to house a clandestine lab.
"People who manufacture meth know how to work with chemicals," Bruce said. "But they're not rocket scientists and they don't know how to cover their tracks."
The drug is "cooked" from common ingredients including pseudoephedrine, found in over-the-counter cold medicines, and anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer stored in tanks in rural farm country. It can be snorted, injected, inhaled or smoked.
Kentucky State Police seized 604 labs last year and about 250 so far this year.
Meth users accounted for 607,000 of the country's 19.5 million drug users in 2003, according to the most recent statistics from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Later Sunday, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales instructed the sheriffs to spread the word about the usefulness of the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement officers more ways to detect and combat terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking.
"I know how important the tools of this act are to the war on terror," Gonzales said. "No one has provided me with evidence that the Patriot Act is being misused or abused."
Liberals and libertarian-oriented conservatives have pressed for changes in the act, citing privacy and civil liberties concerns.