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New laws having impact on meth, but battle far from over

Local law enforcement officials say that with the help of new laws and a concerted effort by the Tallapoosa County Drug Task Force, they are seeing some success in the battle against methamphetamines in the area.

Alabama’s comprehensive anti-meth bill helped establish a drug offender database, made the drug paraphernalia laws reflect the materials used to make meth, regulated the amount of pseudoephedrine that one person can purchase, required ID for purchase of key meth ingredients and made it a felony for anyone convicted of smurfing or buying ingredients to help anyone make meth.

Wednesday at the Alexander City Courthouse, those charged with fighting this issue met for a status report. They talked about what has been done right, and what the next challenges may be.

“This new drug law is one of the things that Alabama did right,” District Attorney E. Paul Jones said. “Meth is one of the most dangerous drugs we have ever seen. We need all the help we can get to stop it before it damages any more lives.

Particularly in rural areas like we have here in our community, most of what we are seeing now is what are known as ‘mom and pop labs’ where they make enough to feed their own habit and maybe sell some to family and friends. That makes it a bit tougher to battle, but we are all working to do what we can.”

According to the Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force, meth lab seizures in Alabama have dropped from 720 in 2010, to 154 in 2013.

Tallapoosa County Sheriff Jimmy Abbett said progress is relative. While the laws have enabled them to keep some of the supplies needed to make meth out of the hands of makers, they are still facing issues.

He said that the laws blocked 606 sales here in Tallapoosa County alone.

Abbett talked about numbers from July where he said that 23 percent of all the crimes his office handled had some connection to meth.

“The tools provided by the State of Alabama’s comprehensive anti-meth laws make it easier for us to do our job, and keep our communities safe,” Abbett said. “The NPLEx system has been like a preventative medicine. The more our Drug Task Force is able to use it to identify potential meth cooks before they start to cook, the more money we save for our taxpayers on unnecessary meth lab clean up and prosecution.

“But we know it’s still out there. Our numbers from just last month show that. What that means is that we have to stay on top of this and keep working to fight it.”

New Site Public Safety Director John McKelvey said the small labs are tougher to find, but with the tools the law provides and educating law enforcement in what to look for, they are still having an impact.

“Most of the arrests we make now start from other investigations,” McKelvey said. “If goes back to recognizing the behaviors and knowing what to look for. It is tougher, but the lists gives us a place to start.”

Tallassee Police Department Chief Jimmy Rodgers heads the task force and said that each agency’s commitment to the overall cause is what has made it successful.

“We formed the Tallapoosa County Drug Task force to help deal with issues like the one that we are all have in meth,” Rodgers said. “The one thing about this group, is that across all agencies, we are all committed to work closely together to fight drugs in our area. I think we are seeing some solid results.”

Local pharmacists say the system takes a bit of the burden off of them.

“We enter scan the ID and the product and the system does the rest,” said Walgreens pharmacist Stacey Benton. “If there are no issues they are given the product and they go on. If there is an issue, if they have exceeded they daily or month maximum, the sale is denied and that is it. It works for us and it is working for law enforcement. That is the key.”