Last year, more than half of North Carolina's counties recorded at least one bust for a methamphetamine lab, and law enforcement officials discovered 344 labs in 2011 alone, according to Clandestine Lab Reports from the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).
Of the state's 100 counties, Burke County, located in Western North Carolina, had the most meth busts—34—according to SBI reports.
The number of meth reports in the western part of the state, especially the mountain areas, are higher because cookers use the one-pot method, the SBI says. This cooking method is simple and easily concealable—often using a plastic soda bottle—and can be used for smaller quantities of meth. According to the SBI, half of the labs in 2011 were using the one-pot lab method, including those made in Burke County.
It is unclear if the increase in the number of busts is because there are more meth labs or if law enforcement has improved its tracking of them.
Pharmacies now use the National Precursor Log Exchange to track possible illegal purchases of pseudoephedrine, a chemical found in cold medicine and a necessary component for creating meth.
NPLx not only tracks these purchases within North Carolina, but it also monitors purchases in 18 states, making it more difficult for meth cooks to avoid detection.
Nationwide, NPLx has stopped more than 1,669 questionable purchases of pseudoephedrine since pharmacies started to use the system in early 2011.
North Carolina still lags behind the big meth states. Missouri had the greatest number of meth busts last year with more than 1,700. Other states recording more than 1,000 include Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Additional research by intern Andrew Branch. Handerhan is also an intern at the Indy.