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Originally published: 2012-12-17 16:28:16
Last modified: 2012-12-17 16:37:51

Authorities find record number of meth labs

Matthew Hundley / (matthew.hundley@averyjournal.com)

For the second year running, Avery County has set a new record for methamphetamine labs discovered by authorities. In 2011, Avery reached a new record with six meth busts over the course of the year. 

For 2012, SBI records show that Avery County had reached eight meth lab busts as of Dec. 10, and, according to Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye, given current investigations, there could be more before the year’s end, drawing the county close to the unfortunate distinction of double-digit statistics.

“The year isn’t over with yet,” Frye said. “We could very easily be at 10 before it is over with.”

In the June 14, 2012, issue of The Avery Journal-Times an article appeared that noted a relative upswing in the number of meth lab discoveries in the year, with six labs discovered by June 4. Prior to 2011, meth lab busts had been on the decline. According to Frye, the decline was likely due to regulations that were put in place in 2006, limiting the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine – a key ingredient for producing meth – by keeping such products behind pharmacy counters and requiring identification from anyone seeking to purchase them. 

Since that intervention, meth producers have adapted and the numbers are once again creeping upward.

“This is the most in Avery County’s history. We are surrounded,” Frye said. “There is a little pocket in Western North Carolina that we just happen to be a part of. Between Wilkes, Caldwell, Burke and Watauga, those are some of the highest in the state.” 

In fact, nearby Wilkes County holds the distinction of having the most meth lab discoveries of any county in the state, with a total of 58, more than double its nearest competitor, Wayne County. Coming in close third and fourth, however, are neighboring Burke and Catawba counties, with Watauga and Caldwell also showing above average numbers as well.

“You have counties with many more resources than we do, such as Mecklenburg County or Gastonia that have caught less meth labs than we have in Avery County,” Frye said. “It is more in the rural areas that you find this becoming a huge problem.” 

The impacts of the meth trend can be felt both in communities and in the law enforcement Frye said, noting the impacts on families, communities and, perhaps most notably, on the health of the user.

“We see a huge impact, not just with meth users, but wherever meth is prevalent. It destroys people, it destroys their lives,” said Frye, noting how quickly meth addiction can take over a user’s life. “Their health deteriorates in such a quick manner. It destroys people’s lives in just a few months.”

In addition to its negative impact on users, meth also hurts communities, Frye said, because, unlike some other drugs, it very often prevents the users from holding a job or contributing to their communities. 

In addition, the prevalence of meth is highly taxing on law enforcement in rural areas.

“It is a huge drain on our resources because when we come across a meth lab, we have to keep someone on the scene until the SBI arrives,” Frye said. “They have a very fast response time, and we appreciate what they do, but it is usually about anywhere from a 12- to 24-hour period that we have to keep somebody on the scene, which takes a deputy off the road or brings in reserve deputies to cover it.”

Contrary to many depictions, most meth labs are notlonger large laboratories in basements or garages. Instead, Frye said, meth labs are more often found in the trunks of cars or even being physically carried by the producer.

“Nearly every meth lab we have now is what is called the ‘one-pot’ or ‘shake and bake’ method where they use two-liter bottles,” Frye said. “We have caught them in backpacks.”

Frye attributes the increase in the prevalence of the “one-pot” meth production to a variety of factors, most of which make detection even more difficult for law enforcement.

“It is the ease of it, the portability of it, being able to conceal it, those have all played a huge factor in (the increase),” Frye said. “It has made it much easier for them; it is much more concealable, leaves less evidence and it is portable.”