usa-map usa-map

Learn more about the dangers of smurfing here

Learn more

Progress Seen in Drug Battle

LaFayette – A new Alabama law appears to be making a major impact in curtailing the presence of illegal meth labs and the manufacture of methamphetamine in the local area.

At a Thursday morning media advisory at the Chambers County Courthouse, Sheriff Sid Lockhart, local police chiefs Tommy Weldon, Angie Spates and Kenneth Vines, Assistant District Attorney Damon Lewis and Lts. Robert Chambers and Johnny Wood of the Chambers County Drug Task Force (CCDTF) noted a remarkable decline in meth-related arrests that have been made since the law passed in 2012. 

Two years ago, Alabama changed its laws in regard to meth, passing some of the strongest and most comprehensive laws in the country.  In 2012, Alabama became the first state in the U.S. to launch an anti-smurfing campaign.

“Smurfing” is a term used when a person, or group of people, purchase pseudoephedrine products and knowingly sells them to someone who intends to use these products in meth production.  This act-contributing to the production of an illegal substance- is now a felony in Alabama.  “Before this new law was passed in 2012, we made over 120 meth-related arrests that year,” said Lt. Chambers, who directs the CCDTF.  “This year we have made only 13 such arrests.  Our success can be attributed to the countless hours of work by our great deputies and police officers in Chambers County as well as the new, national NPLEx reporting system.”

This new system tracks the sle of pseudoephedrine, requiring a government issued photo ID such as an Alabama driver’s license.  There’s a daily, and monthly, allowable limit.  Sales are blocked when someone attempts to purchase beyond these limits.

“These blocked sales resulted in more than 2,700 grams of pseudoephedrine from going out,”  Lt. Chambers said.  “This kept a lot of meth off our streets.”

A decrease in local meth labs also means that Chambers County taxpayers are saving money by not having to pay for them to be cleaned up.

Crews with hazardous materials, or hazmat, training have to be brought in to do this.  “There’s a learning curve in knowing what you can touch and what you can’t touch,” said Chief Weldon, adding that meth labs almost always involve the use of such dangerous, or potentially dangerous, chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia and ether.

Chief Weldon said he was at one of these cleanups several years back when an officer accidentally knocked over a Mason jar with liquid in it. “It caught fire when it hit the floor,” he said.  “We poured water on it to put it out but that made it worse.  A woman who was there with a three year old child told us we had to put it out by smothering it with a blanket.”

Weldon said the one thing that bothered him the most about illegal meth production was the frequency of having young children nearby when people were making the stuff.

“It usually takes around four hours to clean up a meth lab,” Chief Weldon said.  “A hazmat team usually does it.  It’s a great benefit to the community to have these meth labs disappearing.  It cuts down on people being exposed to hazardous chemicals.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney Damon Lewis said the new law has made a big difference.  “We no longer have the super labs we once did,” he said.  “People can’t get pseudoephedrine like they once did.  You now have to present both a current Alabama driver’s license and a valid prescription when purchasing a limited amount from a pharmacy.”

Lewis said that a super lab was busted in Tallapoosa County in 1998.  A relatively large amount of meth was produced in the homemade lab because the people making it were able to but over 150 boxes of pseudoephedrine over the counter in stores throughout the region.  That can’t be done now.

Lt. Wood said that only one meth lab has been busted in Chambers County this year.  He added that three or four were busted in 2013.  In 2012, the year the new law passed, there were 40 meth labs busted and 88 in 2011.

While people into illegal drug use may not be able to get locally-made meth, they don’t appear to be giving up their drug habits. “What’s beingmade locally is way down, but we have seen an increase in the use of crystal meth,” Lt. Wood said.

“A lot of times when a drug user can’t get meth they will go to another illegal drug they can get,” Chief Weldon said.

Lt. Chambers said that most of the meth in Chambers County is coming from neighboring Georgia. “I wouldn’t say that meth is our number one problem now,” he said.  “Prescription drug use is a problem now.  Our Drug Task Force guys and our deputies are doing great work.  This new meth law has helped a lot.  It has blocked people from getting what they need to make it.”

Sheriff Sid Lockhart said that illegal drug use remains a big reason why a lot of people get into crime.  “I would say that 90 percent of the people we’ve had in jail got where they did because of drug use,” he said.  “Their offenses are related to drug use somewhere along the line.”

“We’re still having thefts and burglaries.  They don’t seem to be down.”

Sheriff Lockhart began the program by noting that Thursday was the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.  He asked everyone present to participate in a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives on that awful day.

“It seems the threats to our community change every year,” he said.  “We’re here this morning to discuss what we have done in Chambers County to combat the threat of methamphetamines and drug-related violence.”

“Alabama is now leading the nation in the effort to prevent meth production,” the sheriff added.  “We have seen tremendous progress in Chambers County.  I’ve seen lives and families destroyed by meth.  I know the great work of our drug task force will continue to keep our streets clean of meth.”

Specifics of the new law:

Pharmacy sales only.  Pseudoephedrine (PSE) is sold only at pharmacies in the state of Alabama.  It’s a crime for any other kind of store to sell them.  In pharmacies, they must be kept behind the counter and sold only by licensed pharmacists or a technician under their supervision.

Limited Sales. Alabama has reduced the amount of PSE that can be purchased from 9.0 grams per month to 7.5 grams.  This is lower than the federal limit.  NPLEx, the electronic point of purchase stop-sale system, allows the pharmacist to known whether a customer looking to purchase PSE has already reached their legal monthly allowable limit.

ID Required. The new law replaced a broad “photo-government-issued ID” requirement with a more precise definition.  Under the new law, only a valid, non-suspended driver’s license, non-driver’s ID, valid military ID or valid passport will be acceptable forms of ID for anyone looking to purchase PSE products.

Meth smurfing is a felony.  This is something DA offices in the state will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

Drug offender database.  The new law creates a drug offender database.  Any person convicted of certain enumerated drug offenses, whether they have a prescription or not, would be blocked from any purchase of PSE in Alabama for from seven to ten years.

Loopholes closed. This is an important point: The new law requires anyone traveling to Alabama with a out-of-state ID to have a valid prescription to purchase PSE from an Alabama pharmacy.