Tracking is helping halt meth in Vance County, statewide

Jan. 12, 2013 @ 08:52 PM

New enforcement methods used by state and local law agencies were key contributors to a record 460 methamphetamine labs being raided in 2012.

The attorney general’s office released numbers from each county. Only one, in Vance County, happened in the Tri-County area.

Comparatively among neighbors, Tennessee had 1,808, South Carolina with less than half of North Carolina’s population had 540 and Virginia 276. All states cooperate across state lines, according to Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Vance Sheriff Peter White said electronic tracking of pharmacy purchases was part of breaking up a large meth lab operation at 210 Deer Tick Lane on June 1. He said the tracking is helping across the state.

“You can’t just walk into a store or pharmacy and buy a lot of that stuff,” White said. “You have to ask for it and show proper identification.”

In June, deputies arrested Michael Brennan after finding many containers of flammable chemicals and numerous heating and cooking elements in his garage loft apartment. He was charged with four felonies related to the manufacturing of methamphetamine drugs.

State Bureau of Investigation agents helped safely dismantle the volatile chemical lab equipment.

Law enforcement, however, is growing more concerned with portable “one-pot” methods. Cooper said nearly three-fourths of the 460 incidents were portable, where suspects cook the chemicals in a plastic soda bottle using a small amount of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient found in cold medicines.

White said people should be on the lookout for these mobile meth labs because of the danger to neighborhoods.

“They may park at a mobile home or trailer, or it may be in a mobile home,” White said. “They are extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing — highly explosive.”

White said to be aware of unusual odors and chemical containers, and to call the sheriff’s office at (252) 738-2200 if suspicious. Tips can also be left online at vancesheriff.org.

Cooper said although the labs are smaller, they are no less dangerous.

The 460 lab takedowns compare to 344 in 2011 and 235 in 2010, according to Cooper. The tracking system with pharmacies that started operation on Jan. 1, 2012, blocked about 54,000 pseudoephedrine purchases, or more than 66,000 boxes. That amount could have produced up to 277 pounds of meth.

North Carolina law limits the purchase of pseudoephedrine products to no more than two packages at any one time and no more than three packages in any 30-day period by an individual, and photo identification is required along with signing a purchase log.

SBI agents and other narcotics enforcement officers analyze information from the pharmacy database as a means of identifying potential suspects based on purchase patterns and a repeated attempt to make buys that are blocked.

Cooper said he hopes state legislators will fund five additional officers to the meth lab enforcement team to help make sure the increasing amount of labs dismantled can be done so safely.

Western counties such as Wilkes (59 labs) Catawba (26) and Burke (24) led the state along with Wayne County (27) in the east.


Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.