In a state that once led the nation in laws to reduce access to methamphetamine ingredients, the numbers of labs and methamphetamine deaths are on the rise as cooks adapt and use a new process for making the drug. The number of methamphetamine labs has increased by more than 500 in the past three years, according to figures from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. In 2009, there were 743 labs discovered. Just three years before that, 148 labs were found. Those numbers include labs where people are actively cooking and materials that are dumped and believed to have been methamphetamine labs. "It’s always a game of cat and mouse,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the bureau. "Law enforcement adapts and criminals keep finding a way to work around it.” The number of deaths from methamphetamine overdoses has also climbed. In 2008, 27 deaths were reported. In the first nine months of 2009, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office reported 51 deaths from methamphetamine overdoses, Narcotics Bureau figures show. "That’s alarming,” Weaver said. "When we have more drugs, the results are more bodies.” There were methamphetamine overdose deaths in 20 of the state’s 77 counties. Tulsa County had the most with 18 meth overdoses, according to the figures. Officials expect the death count to increase as the medical examiner’s office finishes work on its 2009 cases.
State passed lawIn 2004, Oklahoma was the first state to pass a law to limit access to pseudoephedrine. Congress followed Oklahoma’s lead and made it federal law to keep the over-the-counter decongestant locked up. To get the decongestant in Oklahoma, buyers have to add their name to a state registry and include their date of birth. People are limited to about 9 grams, or roughly six boxes, of the decongestant in a 30-day period, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the bureau. Following the law, lab numbers dropped, Woodward said. But today, those numbers are creeping back up as more people turn to the "one pot” or "shake and bake” method that requires much less equipment to make. Labs are often contained in a single 20-ounce soda bottle, Woodward said. The ingredients for a "one pot” lab can be found at discount stores for under $25. Users can cook enough for one hit within a few hours. While labs are increasing, they produce less. Users are often cooking enough for themselves and a few friends. The labs are highly flammable. In 2009, Tulsa police reported 16 fires associated with methamphetamine labs, said Jason Willingham, the department’s spokesman. Tulsa police said they first saw the "one pot” cooking method in 2008. "Before, we were going into homes or hotel rooms and we’d see this process sitting there and we wouldn’t know what we were looking at,” Willingham said.
Training crewsLaw enforcement has started training utility crews, repairmen and state Department of Human Services caseworkers on the signs of the "one pot” meth lab. Some in the law enforcement community say meth will continue to be a problem until pseudoephedrine becomes a prescription drug. The Senate is expected to take up a bill that would create a registry banning meth offender buys. "This is a problem that’s honestly not being seen in a lot of places,” Willingham said. "Until that happens we’ll be known as the meth capital of the world.”