By CORRINNA BONET
With over 280 methamphetamine labs discovered in Utah since last October, Drug Enforcement Administration officials are sending their message loud and clear: Utah is not the place to cook meth.
Since 1995, the number of methamphetamine labs discovered in Utah has increased more than 400 percent, according to DEA statistics.
Although the number of labs in Utah are increasing faster than the rest of the nation, those numbers are beginning to level off, said Don Mendrala, DEA resident agent in charge.
While authorities can’t pinpoint any specific reason for the surge in production, the availability of methamphetamine recipes on the Internet is definitely a contributing factor, said Geno Corley, DEA supervisory special agent.
“I think that’s one of the main reasons we’re getting hit so hard by this … It used to be that only a few cooks had the recipes, but now they’re all over the Internet. There are also chat rooms where the information is communicated freely,” Corley said.
Another factor contributing to the methamphetamine production increase is the easy accessibility of its chemical components.
Psuedosphedrine, one of the key components used in meth, is sold over the counter in the form of cold and allergy drugs. However, recently enacted legislation prohibits the sale or possession of more than 12 grams of the chemical.
“You’d have to have more than 200 tablets of 60 milligram cold tablets to equal 12 grams,” said Jeff Payne, DEA task force officer.
Possession of iodine crystals has been limited to 2 ounces. Iodine crystals are another vital component of methamphetamine.
The crystals, used primarily to treat fungal infections in horses’ hooves, are typically sold in tack and feed stores.
“The new legislation was enacted to stop people from possessing huge amounts. No one needs more than 2 ounces of the crystals. Even for a veterinarian, 2 ounces should last a couple of years if it is being used for its intended purpose,” Mendrala said.
Because methamphetamine labs are an increasing problem across the state, reducing production has become a priority for law enforcement officials.
A number of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have engaged in a cooperative effort to thwart production of the drug.
Although these operations are proving to be very successful, they are also costing tax payers millions of dollars. Contracting a chemical processor, which can destroy the drug, costs $1 million a year.
Dollar figures of other costs, including wages, evidence processing and prosecution, were not available.
Dissembling methamphetamine labs creates a tremendous drain on financial resources and manpower, Mendrala said.
But the efforts seem to be paying off.
“Clandestine labs are our number one priority. We want producers to know that our motto is never give up. We’re going to find them. Meth is an evil drug. It’s a threat to the community, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop this,” Corley said.