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Clandestine meth labs down statewide thanks to ‘toughest laws in the U.S.’ authorities say

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Alabama lawmen haven’t won the war against methamphetamine but legislation passed two years ago has drastically cut down on clandestine meth labs statewide, authorities said today.

"When I came into office a little over three years ago, meth was an epidemic in the state of Alabama,” Attorney General Luther Strange said in a press conference held outside the Jefferson County Jail. "Hundreds and hundreds of labs were raided across our state every day."

"We now have the toughest laws against methamphetamine in the U.S.,” Strange said. "Alabama is literally a role model for addressing this scourge."

Lawmen are still battling meth made in Mexico and smuggled across the borders.

"It goes to the importance of securing our borders,” Strange said. "It’s not just about illegal immigration, it’s also about illegal drugs. As long as we have a porous border, it makes it easier for people to bring in these drugs and it’s now up to about 80 percent of the problem." 

Among those attending today’s press conference were: Strange, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, former Rep. Blaine Galliher, who sponsored the 2012 legislation, Etowah County Drug Task Force Commander Rob Savage and Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall, who is the former president of the District Attorneys Association.

What authorities describe as the nation’s toughest ant-meth legislation passed in Alabama in 2012. Much of it focused on restrictions in the sale of certain cold and allergy medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, used in the manufacturing of meth.

Included in that law is: the establishment of a drug offender database; enhancement of the drug paraphernalia laws to allow prosecution of intent even if pseudoephedrine is absent; reductions in the monthly allowable amount of pseudoephedrine that any one person can purchase; establishment of a felony charge for anyone convicted of being involved in smurfing, which when a person or group of people person or group of people that go from one store to another in order to gain enough pseudoephedrine to make meth; restitution of expenses incurred in prosecution of meth lab.

The law also made smurfing going to multiple stores to acquire meth ingredients a felony crime in Alabama.

Lawmen and lawmakers also credit the implementation of the NPLEx system in Alabama for reducing fewer precursor ingredients used to make meth ending up in the hands of manufacturers. NPLEx is the electronic point of purchase monitoring system that restricts the sale of certain cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine. All Alabama pharmacies are required to use the system and make a digital record of purchases and attempted purchases of pseudoephedrine.

Proof of the success, they say, is in the numbers.

-The Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force says meth lab seizures statewide decreased from 720 in 2010 to 154 in 2013.

-In Jefferson County in 2013, NPLEx blocked the sale of 9,845 boxes of pseudoephedrine. That kept more than 24,321 grams of the pseudoephedrine from being used to cook meth.

-Also in Jefferson County, meth lab seizures dropped 50 percent.

-The Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center reports that the sale of 106,657 boxes of pseudoephedrine was blocked statewide in 2013. The blocked sales resulted in more than 257,816 grams of the precursor chemical being kept of the streets.

-In Chambers County, there were 44 meth lab busts in 2010. There was only one in 2013.

-In Marshall County, the sale of more than 46,000 boxes of the precursor chemical was stopped.

"We have seen in each of our jurisdictions throughout the state a dramatic reduction in the number of meth labs which means we’ve done a better job of protecting our children, we’ve done a better job of devoting our resources not to meth lab cleanup but to the ICE that’s coming across the border and allowing us to more effectively reduce this problem in our community,” said District Attorney Marshall.

Sheriff Hale said he’s thrilled with the reduction numbers. "Those are lives saved, and those are less crimes committed,” he said. "Once they get on meth, they’re totally dedicated and they can’t get off it."

"It really does lead to a life of crime,” the sheriff said. "I have a jail full of those involved in meth and the crimes that are a direct result."

Galliher described meth as a devastating drug. "I have worked in drug recovery for years and I have seen firsthand not only the impact it has on the user, but also the family, the husbands, mothers, brothers and sisters,” he said. "Meth is a drug that doesn’t discriminate."

Galliher sponsored the 2012 anti-meth legislation. "When I look back over my life in the legislature, this is certainly to me a legacy bill,” he said. "It may not be one that will go down in the hall of fam as far as legislation that would make you famous, but it’s one that means a lot to me personally and it’s one that I think will help people for years to come."

Savage, Etowah County’s drug task force commander, has worked in narcotics for more than two decades. A situation seven years ago drove home the danger of meth. "We entered a meth lab residence where a 2-week-old child was laying on the sofa having just undergone open heart surgery. Ten feet away was an active meth lab on the dining room table,” he said.

That sight hit investigators hard. "On that day, we all recommitted,” he said.

"For the first time we have laws in place now that give us the upper hand. We’ve not won this war, perhaps this war is not winnable, but this is a better state today because law enforcement has the tools necessary to address these problems."