Although fewer methamphetamine labs are being discovered across the state, the number of meth-related overdose deaths continues to rise.
Last year, 167 people died of meth-related overdoses, while 421 labs were shut down by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. That compares with 140 deaths and 830 lab busts in 2012.
The number of meth-related overdose deaths has been climbing for years. The number of lab discoveries grew to match them until 2012.
The number of meth deaths has quadrupled since 2008, when 40 people were killed by the highly-addictive and super-potent stimulant.
Now, according to OBN spokesman Mark Woodward, home-cooked meth isn’t as popular as Mexican “ice.” While the number of lab busts is shrinking, meth overdoses continue to rise due to the popularity of the Mexican variety.
“The meth users themselves who used to be cooks are saying, ‘Why risk getting caught at a pharmacy, leaving a paper trail or blowing up a house when I’ve got a connection with a guy who’s bringing 10 pounds into Oklahoma City or Tulsa out of Dallas … Mexican ‘ice’ that will be here in two days?’” Woodward said. “The Mexican cartels are filling the void left over by these people who still need meth but can’t cook it anymore.”
A national database that tracks purchases of pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients used to manufacture meth, has helped to deter former cooks from making the drug themselves, Woodward said.
Recent legislation also has limited the amount of pseudoephedrine one person is allowed to buy. In addition, purchases are tracked across the nation, which keeps a user from buying the drug in one state and then in another without consequence.
But meth availability and use continue to be epidemic, Woodward said. In previous years, he said, Mexican “ice” was considered to be an inferior product. But more recently, users have told OBN agents it’s better than their home-cooked meth.
As labs decrease, narcotics officers have more time to work on long-term cases to stop the cartels that are bringing in the “ice.”
In the past year, OBN has made six major busts involving Mexican-sourced meth, Woodward said.
Last year, the OBN, working with local law-enforcement agencies, arrested 20 to 50 suspects in five major Mexican “ice” investigations in Oklahoma City, Lawton, Tulsa, Okmulgee and Lindsay, Woodward said. Earlier this year, authorities also made a series of arrests in Enid. A prime source of the meth in that case had a source in Oklahoma City, who had a source in Dallas, who was getting the drugs from an El Paso source, he said.
“There’s so much ice coming into Oklahoma City and Tulsa,” Woodward said. “We’re just eaten up with it.”
More time for officers to work major cases, fewer explosions and house fires, and fewer children exposed to toxins are among the benefits of fewer local meth labs, Woodward said. But that doesn’t mean the labs aren’t still out there.
And the availability of Mexican “ice” continues to increase the overdose death toll.
“There are a lot of benefits to labs being down,” Woodward said. “Unfortunately, one of them that we’re not seeing is the drop in user deaths.”
Racey Burden can be reached