North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper believes the state needs 42 new agents and chemists and $16 million over the next year to combat the spread of methamphetamine labs, says the Charlotte Observer. His fellow Democrat Gov. Mike Easley believes the state needs only one third of the workers and a 10th of the money.
It’s a dispute over what tools the state and local sheriffs need to stop the drug’s spread, or at least over how much lawmakers can afford to put into the fight. To make the drug, which gives users a prolonged high, meth cooks are stealing cold medicine from dollar stores. They produce powder or crystals by mixing flammable chemicals like lighter fluid and kerosene and red phosphorus from the striker plates of matchbooks. They dump chemicals outdoors, polluting waterways and igniting fires.
It’s an open question whether state legislators will get a handle on the problems and pass laws to fix them before the legislature’s two-month session ends. In 1999 N.C. investigators broke up nine meth labs. In 2003 they broke up 177. Earlier this year they were busting a lab a day. As of Friday, the State Bureau of Investigation had closed 120 this year.
Sheriffs’ deputies usually can’t take the labs apart themselves. State agents and chemists must come in, wearing protective suits. The cleanups can cost up to $30,000, and the federal government helps pay for them only if specially trained officers, such as the SBI agents, secure the labs. “We do what we can to secure it and then we wait,” said Capt. Jim Farnsworth of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office in Asheville. “And sometimes, we wait and wait.”