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Meth labs down, problem persists

The good news is no meth labs were found in Jackson County last year, thanks in large part to tough state laws that have dried up the source of ingredients.

The bad news: Methamphetamine remains a huge problem because of its availability in other countries throughout the world, local law enforcement officials say.

"There are super-labs in Mexico making pounds of meth a day," said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters. "There is no border control, making Interstate 5 a pipeline for meth into the Rogue Valley."

Meth labs have been on the decline throughout Oregon since 2001, according to the Oregon Department of Justice.

Jackson County recorded six labs in each of the past two years, down from 17 in 2003 and 2004.

Eighteen labs were shut down across the state last year, down from 63 in 2006.

Umatilla County led the state in seized labs with five. Multnomah, Columbia, Washington and Deschutes counties logged two labs each. Five other counties reported one lab all of last year.

Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston attributes the decline to the 2005 law regulating cold pills containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient.

Pills containing pseudoephedrine have been available by request only and are kept behind pharmacy counters since July 2006. A government-issued ID is required to buy them.

"Even though we managed to shut down the local meth labs the district attorney's office still filed 676 methamphetamine possession cases last year," Huddleston said.

Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George praised the Legislature for eliminating meth labs, saying that the environmental impact caused by the chemicals used to make the drug made homes that housed labs uninhabitable.

"It also cost landlords a lot of money because they had to pay to have these places cleaned up," George said. "It wasn't cheap."

Only around 20 percent of meth in Jackson County was locally produced, even in the heyday of labs, George said.

"The bulk of meth has always come from outside the state and other countries," he added. "Until we find a way to shore up the border, we'll have this problem."

Police have seen a change recently in the price and quality of meth on the streets. What is sold now is the crystal form of the drug, which is more potent and goes for around $100 per gram, $3,000 per ounce, George said.

"Anytime you have an increase in price, that's a good thing," George said. "But we still have to fight the drug at the street level every day."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.