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Mich. Police Stakeouts Target Meth. Producers

Climax, Mich. (AP) -- Police working to stop the spread of highly addictive methamphetamine are staking out sites around the state that sell anhydrous ammonia -- a fertilizer that's a key ingredient in making the drug.

As farmers prepare their cornfields for spring planting, police are watching places that sell fertilizer, hoping to catch meth lab builders who steal the chemical. And series of new laws to take effect in April, meanwhile, aims to keep manufacture and use of the drug from spreading.

Jim Leach, a farmer and fire chief in the 791-person village of Climax, recalled a day in November 2002 when he was cleaning on his 1,100-acre farm and saw state police pull up to the farming co-op across the street.

Leach knew what had happened: Thieves once again had broken in to steal anhydrous ammonia from the co-op's 1,000-gallon tank.

"I've handled anhydrous for 20 years. You wear goggles and gloves and if you make a mistake you get hurt," Leach, 52, told The Detroit News for a Sunday story.

Recent thefts of the common fertilizer has the Michigan Agribusiness Association warning local farmers about the sparked interest among drug manufacturers, the Cheboygan Daily Tribune reported.

Meth is a powdery white or brown drug that can be smoked, snorted, injected or eaten. The drug, also known as crank, ice or crystal, creates a longer high than cocaine or heroin, lasting up to 18 hours.

A June 2003 report by the state's Office of Drug Control Policy showed 660 people were treated statewide for methamphetamine or amphetamine use in 2002. In 1999, 311 people were reportedly treated statewide.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of the state's population have used methamphetamines or similar drugs at least once, according to state surveys.

The number of Michigan methamphetamine labs discovered has risen from two in 1998 to 186 in 2003 -- a handful of which were in Oakland, Wayne and Livingston counties. There have been 14 meth lab busts this year in Michigan.

"Just five years ago, Michigan didn't have a methamphetamine problem," Michigan State Police Detective Lt. Tony Saucedo said. "Because the drug can be manufactured with a laundry list of household chemicals and supplies, with the exception of anhydrous ammonia, users see it as an easy high and big bang for the buck."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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