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Originally published: 2012-06-12 14:10:34
Last modified: 2012-06-12 14:13:34

Avery County could reach new record for methamphetamine labs

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

In 2011, Avery County set a record for its highest number of methamphetamine (commonly referred to as “meth”) labs uncovered by authorities, according to Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye, reaching a total of six by the end of last year. That record may not stand for long. As of June 4 of this year, authorities shut down their fifth lab since January. If the trend continues throughout the rest of 2012, Avery County will soon pass its previous mark, and could reach the dubious distinction of a double-digit total before the end of the year.
According to SBI statistics, Avery County is settled geographically in the center of one the worst parts of the meth problem, with neighboring counties Watauga and Burke showing some of the highest numbers of meth lab busts in the state. Additionally, authorities in Avery County are fending off the strong presence of meth from neighboring Tennessee.
“We’re in the eye of the storm,” said Frye.
What’s more, the number of labs discovered does not necessarily provide an accurate picture of the number of labs active in the county, according to Frye.
“Its hard to tell, you don’t know how much you are getting out of how much is there,” said Frye.
Before last year, meth lab busts had been on the decline. 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.
According to Frye, however, the trend began to reverse as meth producers adapted to the regulations, finding ways to acquire excessive amounts of pseudoephedrine-filled medicines. One such method involves tricking innocent pharmacy patrons into purchasing the drugs for them. Often, the perpetrators will not even enter the store, feigning sickness or injury while still in their cars in an effort to take advantage of kind-hearted store patrons. According to Frye, perpetrators have even been known to use their own children as a rationale to avoid going into the store, asking for assistance from patrons entering the establishment.
Desperate tactics like these are indicative of the destructive power of meth and its danger to Avery County.
“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.” When it comes to the impact on communities in Avery County, Frye noted that the nature of meth addiction prevents addicts from functioning in society, creating a potentially enormous financial impact on the county.
“You very seldom see them hold down any kind of employment,” said Frye, explaining that meth addiction not only hurts the addicts and their families, but the community as a whole.
Another change that has spurred the increase in meth production is the advent of “shake and bake” meth labs, according to Frye, who noted that such labs are just as chemically volatile, but more mobile and easier to conceal.
“It requires a lot of effort to track this down, and we’re doing the best we can,” said Frye, noting the hard work of his deputies and detectives.
Frye encouraged any citizen who encounters pseudoephedrine scams or discovers bottles (typically 2-liter plastic bottles) with a white chalky substance inside to contact Avery County Sheriff’s Office and Municipal Drug Task Force immediately. To contact Avery County Sheriff’s Office, call (828) 733-2071.