(MCT) CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s methamphetamine lab problem is spreading into more counties across the state.
Last year, authorities seized meth labs in a dozen counties that had no meth labs in 2012, according to West Virginia State Police data released Wednesday.
“The overall numbers are increasing and the areas affected are expanding,” said Dan Foster, a Charleston doctor who headed a Kanawha County substance-abuse task force last fall. “It’s no longer a problem limited to one or two parts of the state.”
Several counties had significant increases in meth lab busts last year.
In 2012, authorities reported no meth lab busts in Greenbrier County. Last year, officers seized 19 clandestine labs in there.
“The seemed to all come in a flurry,” said Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester, adding that many of the meth lab busts were in unincorporated parts of Greenbrier County. “The increase has really drawn a lot of attention to the problem in this area.”
In Wood County, meth lab seizures increased six-fold, from six labs in 2012 to 36 labs last year, according to State Police statistics.
“Meth is tearing up our county,” said Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood. “We’re really concerned.”
State and local officials have cited stepped-up law enforcement and the proliferation of “one-pot” or “shake and bake” meth labs as possible reasons for the spike. Statewide, meth lab seizures increased from 287 labs in 2012 to 533 labs last year.
Kanawha County’s meth lab numbers increased from 96 labs to 159, a 65 percent increase. Putnam County’s total rose from 15 labs to 28.
Boone County had the state’s second sharpest spike in meth lab busts — just one lab in 2012, and 17 last year.
In Lincoln, Fayette, Logan, Lewis and Jackson counties, meth lab busts jumped five-fold, while lab seizures quadrupled in Upshur County and doubled in Randolph County.
Meth lab discoveries declined in eight of West Virginia’s 55 counties. Grant, Roane and Mason counties had the most significant drops.
On Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee advanced a bill designed to reduce meth labs across the state. The legislation (SB6) requires people to secure a doctor’s prescription before buying most cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient.
Pharmacies now keep the nasal decongestant — sold under brand names such as Sudafed and Allegra D — behind the counter, and customers must show a photo ID to buy it.
The bill exempts “tamper-resistant” pseudoephedrine products, including Nexafed and Zephrex-D, which can’t easily be converted to meth.
Azinger, who said he plans to vote for the prescription bill if it makes it to the House, said the measure would help law enforcement stamp out the meth lab problem. Wood County’s sheriff and Parkersburg’s police chief have supported making most pseudoephedrine products prescription-only.
“We ask the police to come out and protect us,” Azinger said, “so if we ask them to do that, we ought to give them every advantage to cut down on this stuff.”
The legislation next goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice…@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.
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