Anson County had the second-highest number of meth lab busts in the state last year.
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation reported that there were 376 meth lab busts in the state in 2016, with 22 in Anson. Only Johnson County had more with 33 meth lab busts.
In 2015, Anson and Union both tied with the third-highest amount of meth labs in the state with 27 each, according to the SBI.
In 2016, neighboring Union County only had one meth lab bust, while Richmond and Stanly County each had 12. Montgomery County had four.
The 376 busts in the state is still a lower amount than in the previous four years; in 2012-2015, there were 460, 561, 557 and 467 meth lab busts, consecutively. The SBI charts the number of busts since 2003, when there were only 177.
The number of meth labs decreasing both in the county and in the state may be a good thing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that drug use is declining.
One-pot, or “shake and bake,” labs are the most common both in Anson and in the state, according to SBI Agent Kelly Page. Meth cooks use a plastic bottle to shake the mixture until the chemical process is complete.
Even though these labs are so small and difficult to find, Page said via email that the SBI knows that meth labs are declining overall, “however, we believe that the increase in heroin use and heroin overdoses have contributed to the decrease in meth labs.”
Meth is also being brought in from other areas.
“We have also seen a significant increase in the amount of methamphetamine ice, or crystal methamphetamine, in N.C., which is produced outside of the United States (and) is brought in and distributed here,” she said. “Higher availability of methamphetamine ice generally drives down the need for individuals to produce methamphetamine domestically, such as in their homes.”
Sheriff Landric Reid said most of the meth found in Anson is produced in the county, and that it’s “cheap and easy to make.”
Reid said his department has focused specifically on meth, adding there are a lot of residents “depending on it.”
“We just have to continue to try to educate people, basically,” he said. “There’s a couple reasons people depend on it so much. A lot use it to exchange for pills, money, sex and different things. Some sell and some are dependents of it. I think of the reasons we have numbers that are still so high is that anytime we get a dump site, where someone has dumped what they were using as a meth lab, that’s considered a meth lab. Even a dump site.”
Those dump sites make the county’s numbers higher, so the number doesn’t necessarily reflect labs that were busted, he said. The dump sites also contribute to the littering problem in the county, he said. Reid believes that most of it is left by people who live in the county rather than those from outside looking to get rid of their evidence.
“Sometimes, only people in the county know these areas,” he said. “I think people dumping from outside would bring it just inside the county line and dump it.”
Reid pointed out that some counties in the state had high numbers of meth lab busts some years only to have one or two the next year, and that Anson can make progress.
Often, his department stumbles across meth labs when investigating something totally separate, he said. Some of the labs have had children inside.
Normally, when his deputies find a one-pot lab, they find a traditional lab nearby, he said.
His deputies try to keep an eye on individuals they know have been involved with meth before.
“Mainly, it’s a community that makes and produces meth,” he said. “There’s basically now a lot of them. We try to keep focused on them, try to make our presence known to them. Our main goal is to try to run them out of business.”
Reid hasn’t increased undercover operations, but tries to watch the “main players and keep an eye on them,” he said.
While authorities discover most of the labs or dump sites themselves, they are led to others by the community.
“Most of the time, we find them, but there are some that someone is reporting suspicious things on their property and we go out and find out its a meth lab someone has disposed of,” Reid said.
Anyone who suspects the existence of a meth lab is asked to call 911.
“The key ingredient is pseudoephedrine, found in many nonprescription cold medications,” the SBI notes on its website. “To combat meth production, North Carolina law only allows cold medications with this ingredient to be sold from behind a pharmacy counter.”
Customers purchasing a medication that includes pseudoephedrine must be at leas 18 and have a photo ID. They cannot buy more than two packages at once and three in 30 days.
Signs of a meth lab may include finding a large amount of cold medicine, noticing chemical odors, finding items such as rubber tubing, plastic soda bottles, coffee filters and more, according to the SBI. More information on the signs of a meth lab can be found at ncdps.gov.
Reid said that anyone with old or unused medicine, including those that contain pseydoephedrine, and who are unsure of how to dispose of the drugs can contact their local pharmacy.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.