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 law
In 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.