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Police: Luck is reason fewer meth labs found in state

December 13, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

Police have been finding more methamphetamine labs and dump sites in the states that surround Maryland, but few within the state.

The reason?

Luck, Maryland State Police Lt. James Pyles told the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday.

"It's all around us. ... Is it good police work? I'd like to think so, but I think it's a lot of luck," Pyles said.

Local health department officials report an increase in people seeking help with meth addictions, and a lack of state oversight concerning the sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine has made law enforcement's job tougher, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said.

"This has come across the country in the past 10 years," Smith said. "The window to do something about it is closing."

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Federal laws now woven into the Patriot Act require that retailers ask for consumers' identification when they are buying over-the-counter products such as Sudafed that contain pseudoephedrine or ephedrine. Consumers also are supposed to sign a log.

Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are required ingredients when producing meth, Maryland State Police Detective Sgt. Mark Rodeheaver said.

"We were told recently that we are the only state that doesn't control over-the-counter ingredients," Smith said.

Without state laws, officers who find 20 boxes of Sudafed in a vehicle during a traffic stop cannot pursue the matter, Rodeheaver said. Instead, federal agencies would have to be contacted.

Police said people from other states, who have knowledge about the laws, have been stopped in Maryland as they buy the ingredients. They also know that Maryland's maximum penalty for the felony of manufacturing or selling meth is five years, police said.

"They're coming into our state to buy the precursors for what they need," Pyles said.

"I can't imagine why a methamphetamine dealer wouldn't want to run to Maryland to set up shop just because of the penalty phase," Rodeheaver said.

"Our local health department statistics tell us that we could be on the verge of a significant problem," Smith said.

Meth users typically are white males between 15 and 20 years old, Pyles said. It's uncommon to find a meth user who is older, he said.

"They're in jail or they are dead," Pyles said. Meth addicts stand about a 5 percent chance of recovery, he said.

Fifteen meth labs have been seized in Maryland since 2000, Pyles said. One in five meth labs is identified because of some type of explosion, he said.

Police asked the City Council to support legislation that would stiffen the penalties for distribution and manufacturing, control the sale of ingredients and establish standards for cleanup.

"The cost of cleaning up a meth lab is a huge budgetary issue," Smith said, while the officers explained that a chemical contractor is hired for the job.

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