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Chambers County Sees Drop In Meth Production

 Over the past two years, the manufacture and sale of methamphetamines in Chambers County has significantly declined, thanks in part to state legislation and anti-meth programs that have aided law enforcement agencies.

 A press conference was held this past Thursday by local law enforcement officials to highlight the progress made in the fight against meth in the county. Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart, along with District Attorney Chief Assistant Damon Lewis, Valley Police Chief Tommy Weldon, LaFayette Police Chief Kenneth Vines, Lanett Police Chief Angie Spates, Drug Task Force Project Director Lt. Robert Chambers and Drug Task Force Commander Johnny Wood, were on hand to discuss the Alabama anti-meth legislation that is considered some of the toughest against the drug in the nation.

In 2012, the state passed comprehensive legislation designed to assist law enforcement in the battle against meth, as well as reduce the sales of precursor ingredients to individuals who purchase them with the explicit purpose of manufacturing illegal substances, a practice referred to as “smurfing.”

Since that time Chambers County law enforcement officials have been able to dramatically reduce the manufacture of the drug. The results are evident in the numbers. Lt. Chambers said that in 2011 the Drug Task Force busted 88 meth labs, that number decreased to 40 in 2012, then to four in 2013. So far this year, the Task Force has busted just one lab in the county. As a result, meth use has also declined. “Before these laws were passed in 2012 Chambers County made over 120 meth-related arrests,” Chambers said. “This year, we have made only 13 arrests.”

“Alabama is leading the nation through our efforts to prevent meth production and use in our communities,” Lockhart said. “In Chambers County we have made tremendous progress. All the men and women in law enforcement in Chambers County and the surrounding counties have worked extensively to ensure that this dangerous drug is being eradicated and kept out of our communities.”

Lt. Chambers said that the new laws have made “smurfing’ a felony and that had greatly aided in the fight. He also credited the national NPLEx reporting system. “This system tracks the sale of pseudoephedrine (PSE), which requires a government issued photo ID, and will block a sale if someone has exceeded their daily or monthly allowable limit,” he said.

Last year, the NPLEx system blocked 84 purchases in Chambers County. “By using the NPLEx system, we’ve been able to keep a close eye on known drug dealers and restrict certain types of criminal activity,” Lockhart said. “This tool allows us to more effectively keep precursor ingredients out of the hands of people who intend to use them for illegal purposes. It also allows us to closely monitor anyone who might be buying, or attempting to purchase, PSE under suspicious conditions.”

Lewis outlined some of the components of the anti-meth legislation and how they have helped in the fight against it. He said PSE must now be kept behind the counter and can only be sold by a licensed pharmacist, or a technician directly under the pharmacist’s supervision. Alabama allows a monthly purchase amount of 7.5 grams, down from 9.0 grams, and lower than the federal limit. Under the new law, only a valid, non-suspended driver’s license, non-drivers ID, valid Military ID, or valid passport will be acceptable forms of ID for anyone looking to purchase PSE products.

The new laws also increase penalties. “Any person convicted of certain enumerated drug offenses, whether they have a prescription or not, would be blocked for any purchase of PSE in Alabama for up to 7 to 10 years,” Lewis said.

The new law also requires anyone traveling to Alabama with, for example, a Mississippi ID, to have a valid prescription in order to purchase PSE at an Alabama pharmacy.

Chief Weldon noted that the decrease in the number of local meth labs has saved taxpayers money, which in the past had been used to investigate and clean up labs. He stressed that clean up can be costly and very dangerous.

While the numbers are impressive, officials said that drug use continues to be a problem in the county. Weldon said that a lot of times, meth users would go back to other drugs such as cocaine. Chambers added that while local meth production is down, the drug coming over from Georgia continues to be a problem.

“The increase of imported meth suggests that Alabama’s laws are working,” added Lockhart.