In the early 2000s, North Carolina experienced a surge in meth use. The state combated that surge by restricting the sale of Sudafed and other over-the-counter drugs that contain precursors for meth. The numbers fell in the middle of the decade, but began creeping up almost immediately—157 meth lab busts in 2007, 235 in 2010, up to 460 last year.
“Meth, for whatever reason, has really hit here and kind of taken a hold here lately,” says Rowan County detective Kevin Black, a board member of the North Carolina Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association.
Black says drugmakers are circumventing restrictions on precursors. Instead of large labs, as seen on TV shows like Breaking Bad, they cook small amounts in 2-liter soda jugs. It’s called the “shake and bake” or “one pot” method.
“It’s easier for them to do, and it’s easier for them to conceal,” says Black, “As opposed to a large-scale operation, where you would have maybe an outbuilding or a couple rooms in your house dedicated to the traditional way we used to see them cook.”
That method is still highly explosive. Black says his department caught a man this year who lit himself on fire cooking meth while driving his car.
Most of the busts in Lincoln County have been people using the one-pot method, says sheriff David Carpenter. But he attributes the bulk of the arrests in his county to a new way of tracking who buys precursors.
“Our investigators are using a national database to do that, and actually obtaining the information fairly quickly, and going to the homes of the individuals, and questioning them about what they’re doing, and doing searches of their homes,” says Carpenter.
Carpenter says his officers began using the database this year.