No SEK meth labs seized in 2020, following statewide downward trend

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Although methamphetamine undoubtedly remains a problem in Southeast Kansas — as made clear by last week’s arrest of a Pittsburg woman for possession of two pounds, or $70,000 worth, of the drug — following a statewide trend, meth lab seizures have been declining in the region in recent years. 

There were no methamphetamine lab seizures in 2020 in a 15-county region including Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Cherokee, Chautauqua, Coffey, Crawford, Elk, Greenwood, Labette, Linn, Montgomery, Neosho, Wilson or Woodson counties, according to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.  

Statewide, only three labs were seized last year, compared to 13 in 2019. Of those 13, three were in Southeast Kansas, in Crawford, Cherokee, and Montgomery counties. 

“Since 2011 the number of labs in Kansas has decreased every year except for 2019,” according to the KBI’s 2020 methamphetamine report. “The number of labs throughout the U.S. continues to decline.”  

In 2018, all six of the meth lab seizures statewide were in Southeast Kansas. They included two incidents each in Cherokee and Bourbon counties, one in Crawford County, and one in Anderson County. 

In 2017, there were seven meth lab seizures in Southeast Kansas, out of 12 total statewide. Three of these were in Labette County. There were also incidents in Greenwood, Montgomery, Neosho and Wilson counties, according to the KBI. 

In 2016, there were 11 meth lab seizures in the 15-county Southeast Kansas region out of 25 statewide. These included three in Crawford County, two each in Cherokee and Wilson counties, along with incidents in Bourbon, Labette, Neosho, and Woodson counties.  

Information for 2015 was not available, but the KBI report for 2014 indicates that 32 out of 55 labs seized that year were located in Southeast Kansas. These included 12 in Montgomery County, 10 in Crawford County, and six in Cherokee County. 

In Southeast Kansas, local ordinances may also be inadvertently hindering law enforcement from accurately tracking purchases of meth precursors that could help them locate more meth labs. 

Since 2011, pharmacies in Kansas have used a system called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to monitor all pseudoephedrine purchases in a single database, where the information collected is made available to both pharmacists and law enforcement. 

“Allen County, Neosho County, Labette County, Bourbon County, Crawford County, Cherokee County and the City of Parsons have passed local laws requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine/ephedrine,” the 2020 KBI report notes. “Due to these laws, the pharmacies in these areas no longer report purchases to the NPLEx system. These areas report to the Kansas Board of Pharmacy Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances (K-TRACS) system. Law enforcement can no longer check these areas for purchases without a court order.” 

The decrease in seizures of meth labs in recent years also does not necessarily mean that there has been a decrease in the availability of methamphetamine. 

“According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) most of the methamphetamine available in the U.S. is produced in Mexico by drug trafficking organizations and smuggled across the border,” the report notes. “This methamphetamine is produced in large quantities at high purity levels. Should domestic production of methamphetamine continue to decline, it is likely that it will still be readily available due to this low-cost, high-purity alternative originating in Mexico.” 

The increased availability of Mexican meth in recent years, in fact, has led to a drop in the price of the drug, according to the KBI, although the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to increase again somewhat last year. 

“The price for purchasing methamphetamine on the street drastically dropped from 2014 to 2019 due to the increased production and importation of Mexican methamphetamine,” the KBI report notes. “Due to this increased availability of imported methamphetamine, the demand for domestically produced methamphetamine has declined. In 2020 travel restrictions enacted by governments during the pandemic reduced the availability of methamphetamine and increased the price paid by consumers.”