Meth related arrests triple in county

Kevin Kelshaw, Sheriff’s Office Media Relations Officer, reported to Historic City News this morning that so far this year, 17 meth labs have been discovered in raids by St. Johns County deputies — the most recent was last weekend.

Through the use of confidential informants and undercover detectives, the investigation of illegal methamphetamine production has increased in the past two years.

In researching Historic City News archives, we found several examples of the extremely high risk of contamination and fire associated with manufacturing the unstable substance.

Over last year’s raids, Kelshaw said the number of meth labs busted this year has tripled.

Suspected causes of the increase in methamphetamine related raids and arrests are the increased availability and relatively low cost of the household items used in its production; primarily, allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine or ephedrine.

Products containing pseudoephedrine remain available without a prescription; however, since enactment of the “Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2006”, must now be kept “behind the pharmacy counter” and through online retailers who must meet certain requirements.

This weekend, a Historic City News reporter went to a local grocery store pharmacy to obtain the store’s generic brand of Sudafed. They were asked for photo identification. The information from the driver’s license and a required telephone number were entered into the pharmacy’s tracking system. The reporter was required to sign a log indicating the date and quantity of pseudoephedrine tablets obtained.

The process took almost fifteen minutes — other customers were able to purchase prescription medications with less interaction and delay. The objective of the law is to eliminate the use of pseudoephedrine in the illegal production of methamphetamine.

An undercover deputy was quoted in a recent news interview saying “we get tips daily and we’re almost responding weekly to labs.”

Kelshaw believes that there was no downturn in demand for the illegal drug because of the downturn in the economy.

Often labs are discovered in the privacy of homes and even rented hotel rooms; however, a large space is not required to “cook meth”. “Now labs are contained to areas as small as a backpack and you can walk down the road with them,” the undercover deputy explained.

To combat the growing problem, the sheriff’s office recently printed brochures – a version to warn high schools students and another to tell realtors and landlords what to look out for in their rental properties.

Although some increase in arrests is attributable to stepped-up investigation efforts, training and equipment, Kelshaw says that investigators believe there is still an increase in the number of criminals who are attempting to manufacture methamphetamine.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by SJSO

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