Battle against meth shifting to 'ice'

Franklin County authorities sort through evidence during a raid of a suspected meth house in Gerald, Mo., in September 2010. | AP File Photo
Posted: Sep. 27, 2015 12:49 am Updated: Oct. 18, 2015 1:21 am

Staff Writer | 217-221-3370 | @DOBrienWHIG

QUINCY -- The fight against methamphetamine in Adams County has shifted.

Law enforcement officials say the highly addictive drug is still being manufactured the old-fashioned way through the use of pseudoephedrine, but they're seeing more and more users turn to crystal meth. Quincy police arrested two people last weekend who allegedly had large amounts of crystal meth on them.

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Patrick Frazier, the leader of the West Central Illinois Task Force for three years, said crystal meth, also known as "ice," is plentiful in the area.

"There is no shortage of it," he said.

Through Aug. 31, the county had seen a 12.9 percent decrease in meth lab seizures than through that same period last year, according to Illinois State Police statistics. Lab seizures are down 51 percent from the same time period in 2013. Statewide, Illinois State Police have cleaned up 70 less labs this year through Aug. 31 than it did during the same time period in 2014, a 12.6 percent drop.

Illinois isn't the only state that has seen a downturn in meth labs. Missouri is on pace for 40 percent fewer meth lab seizures this year than last, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol data. Oklahoma busts are on pace to drop 33 percent, while Tennessee's are down 48 percent.

The steep decline doesn't mean users are turning away from the highly addictive drug.

"What we're hearing throughout the Midwest from our colleagues is they're all seeing meth labs drop, but it's critical to note that no state is saying meth use is down," said Mark Woodward of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. "It's just that they've switched sources from cooking it to importing it."

Two recent cases involve ‘ice'

Frazier said people who want to illegally manufacture the drug by buying pseudoephedrine pills can do so, but they must give an ID and are limited on the amount of the drug they can purchase.

"They're not generating as much product at one time, and it's more work," Frazier said.

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Don Payton, a statewide support coordinator who has worked with meth units across the state, said the state started blocking sales of pseudoephedrine last year to people who tried to purchase and had previous meth convictions. He said that might be another reason for the reduction in lab seizures.

Frazier said crystal meth is making its way to the area via Mexican drug cartels, which are smuggling it into America. When police come across crystal meth, they're finding it in much larger doses than when they investigated cases with the "shake-and-bake" method.

"You might find a few grams on a lab bust, but we're getting multiple ounces of ice," Frazier said.

Two arrests involving crystal ice were made Sept. 18. Quincy police arrested Tasmon J. Salter, 22, of Quincy, on a federal indictment. He is alleged to have attempted to sell 65 grams of crystal meth to a West Central Illinois Task Force informant Sept. 2.

Also arrested was Marty Owsley, 51, of Quincy. Originally wanted on domestic battery charges, Owsley was found with drugs that appeared to be crystal meth, drug paraphernalia and a large amount of cash. Frazier said Owsley had 12 grams of crystal meth when he was arrested.

Frazier said he and his agents began to see a shift in the local meth trade about a year ago.

"We're going to continue to put pressure on people who are selling," Frazier said. "We're working on cases that involve ‘ice' as we speak."

Mexican meth cheaper, more pure

Seizing the opportunity provided by the tougher enforcement of homemade meth in the U.S., Mexican cartels have turned to an old recipe known as P2P, which first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, experts said. It uses the organic compound phenylacetone -- banned in the U.S. but obtainable in Mexico, according to the DEA -- rather than pseudoephedrine.

As a result, the purity of Mexican meth rose from 39 percent in 2007 to essentially 100 percent, Jim Shroba, special agent in charge of the DEA office in St. Louis, said. Meanwhile, the price dropped by two-thirds.

Tennessee, which has often been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in seizures, is "seeing a significant influx in availability of Mexican meth," said Tommy Farmer, director of the Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force.

Woodward said Oklahoma police commonly hear that users have accepted Mexican meth, once considered inferior to the homemade drug.

"And they don't have to risk blowing up their lab or getting caught at a pharmacy," he said.

For more than a decade in the early 2000s, Missouri was the national leader in meth lab seizures. But data from the Highway Patrol for the first six months of 2015 shows Missouri with 314 seizures, on pace for 628. That would be a big drop from the 1,045 seizures last year. Just three years ago, Missouri had more than 2,000 meth lab seizures.

Nearly a quarter of the seizures this year have been in Jefferson County, just south of St. Louis. Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Cpl. Chris Barker said his county is aggressively out to get rid of the labs because of the dangers they cause to children in homes where labs exist, to police, and to other innocent people exposed to them.

Labs aren't declining everywhere. Indiana had 1,488 seizures last year and is on pace to see a nearly 4 percent increase in 2015, said Niki Crawford, Indiana's meth suppression director. Michigan is on pace to equal the 860 it had last year, said Steve Spink, meth coordinator for the Michigan State Police.

Crawford said Indiana has been slower than neighboring states to adopt measures to limit the sale of pseudoephedrine.

"Pseudoephedrine is still easy to get a hold of, unfortunately," Crawford said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.