Pubdate: Mon, 25 Jul 2005
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


MARION -- McDowell County had the most meth labs for the first six 
months of the year during a time when North Carolina officials have 
seen methamphetamine cases rise drastically.

In the first six months of this year, the state broke up 199 meth 
labs, 20 percent more than the same time a year ago, according to the 
State Bureau of Investigation. McDowell topped the list at 46.

Most of the labs are in western counties in the foothills and 
mountains. The problem has become so prevalent in McDowell County 
that law enforcement officers have started calling it "MethDowell." 
Rutherford, Madison, Haywood and Buncombe counties have also reported 
record numbers of labs.

Watauga County volunteer firefighter Darien South nearly died while 
containing a fire in a meth lab in 2003. He lost half of his lung 
capacity from being exposed to the fumes and now takes 10 to 12 
medications a day to keep his oxygen levels up.

In Buncombe County, 14 children were found in the 23 labs busted during 2004.

North Carolina would have one of the nation's strictest laws 
governing the sale of cold medicines used in the making of 
methamphetamine under a bill passed July 19 by a House committee. 
Medicines such as Sudafed would be kept behind the counter in part to 
curb the production of meth in clandestine labs.

Methamphetamine has reached the state's central region, too. Johnston 
County officials busted three active and nine dormant labs this year. 
Labs were also busted in Granville and Franklin counties.

The drug is crawling eastward across the state, worrying officials 
enough that they're rushing to train investigators and toughen 
sentencing guidelines. They also are pushing a new law that would 
restrict the availability of meth ingredients such as cold medicines 
to the public.

In the 1980s, state agents busted labs in McDowell County but the 
entire state would see only a handful of labs, said Van Shaw, 
assistant special agent in charge of the SBI's Clandestine Laboratory 
Response Program.

Now the numbers are increasing in part, officials say, because of 
geography and word-of-mouth communication among users and cooks.
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