National officials meet about meth threat |

National officials meet about meth threat

LAS VEGAS – Methamphetamine labs are sprouting up in rural areas and will continue to ruin lives unless Congress makes it harder to buy over-the-counter cold medicines that contain ingredients for the drug, county officials from across the nation were told Saturday.

“These labs are not going to go away until we stop the ability of the bad guys from going to a Wal-Mart or Target and getting their hands on this stuff,” Michael Heald of the Drug Enforcement Administration said at a conference of the National Association of Counties.

Heald said meth labs are springing up because the recipes are available online and cold or allergy medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, used in meth production, are readily available.

“You don’t have to be a chemist,” Heald said. “If you can bake cookies, you can cook dope.”

In Nevada, the DEA reported breaking up 125 meth labs last year, compared to a five-year high of 291 labs in 1999. In comparison, California reported 1,239 meth labs last year.

Heald said the DEA has been successful in breaking up big manufacturing labs, forcing much of the large-scale production to Mexico and other countries.

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However, the small labs remain a toxic problem. Cleaning them up can “shut down a small county’s resources” for a day, Heald told about 100 county representatives during a round-table discussion titled “The Threat of Meth.”

Heald said he favors requiring pharmacists to distribute cold medicines, which would allow for limits on how much a person could buy and the ability to track purchases.

The National Association of Counties has not taken a position on the regulation of cold medicines but supports increased funding for methamphetamine research, enforcement, treatment and education.

“Meth is a silent epidemic that is devastating counties across the country,” said Colleen Landkamer, a commissioner in Blue Earth County, Minn., and vice president of the association.

Meth labs are also a problem for county welfare agencies which must deal with children who often are found living in homes where the drug is being manufactured. Environmental services also need to ensure that chemicals have not been discarded in nearby streams and waterways.

Meth also impacts corrections officers who must deal with addicts and hospitals who must treat those exposed to dangerous chemicals during the manufacturing process.