RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday his plan to stop the spread of drug labs that manufacture dangerous methamphetamine in North Carolina.
"Criminals who make meth pollute the water and ground, poison the mind and body and, worse yet, ruin the health and lives of young children," Cooper said. "In just the last four years, these secret drug labs have exploded across our state."
Law enforcement officers joined Cooper to release a preliminary report that includes findings and recommendations for combating the growing problem of meth labs.
The report is the result of committees of experts first convened by Cooper at the North Carolina Methamphetamine Summit in Winston-Salem in October 2003 to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight the trend.
In 1999, the first year that meth labs were reported in North Carolina, State Bureau of Investigation agents investigated nine labs. That number has skyrocketed, with agents shutting down 177 labs in 2003.
Cooper said agents expect to discover even more meth labs across the state in 2004.
According to the preliminary report, North Carolina has made progress in fighting the meth epidemic.
The report recommends tougher penalties for criminals who manufacture meth, as well as laws that target the possession of precursor ingredients needed to make meth and that hold meth pushers responsible if their drugs lead to overdose deaths.
Cooper said he is working with the North Carolina Sentencing Commission to develop ideas for toughening penalties against meth in time for the upcoming legislative session.
According to the report, North Carolina must also address the problem of children living in meth labs. In 2003, children were found in one-fourth of meth labs busted.
The report recommends making it a crime to expose children to meth labs, which can endanger children due to the risks of explosion, fire and toxic chemicals.
Additional report recommendations include:
The report also points to a need for a public awareness effort so that all citizens can learn to identify and report dangerous meth labs in their community.
The report recommends videos, brochures and a Web site to educate the public with specialized training for people who are most likely to come in contact with meth labs.
For example, landlords and hotel and motel workers should be trained to recognize the tell-tale signs of a lab, and garbage collectors need training to spot the kinds of waste generated by cooking meth -- such as empty blister packs of decongestant or the smell of ammonia.
The report said local prosecutors also need to be educated about meth and how to try meth-related cases.
To cut down on the easy availability of key meth ingredients, the report suggests work with retail merchants in North Carolina to develop a program to monitor and limit sales of precursors such as such as over-the-counter cold medications.
For example, employees and managers could be trained to curb the amount of these medicines sold to a single customer or kept out on shelves, and stores could place precursors behind the counter or notify shoppers that aisles where these products are sold are kept under video surveillance.
"The meth epidemic poses a whole new set of challenges and dangers for law enforcement, first-responders, prosecutors, public health officials, and child-welfare agencies," Cooper said. "We must attack this problem now."
A complete copy of the report including a list of participants is available
on the Web
under "Important News."