Meth cases remain low in Beaufort County, soar statewide

astice@islandpacket.comFebruary 24, 2013 

A robot police officer, at bottom right, was deployed as the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office bomb squad investigated a suspicious backpack found in January on Island Drive at Old Woodlands Plantation on Hilton Head Island. The Sheriff's Office later confirmed the backpack was a "mobile meth lab."

FILE/STAFF PHOTO

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has been prepared for years for a methamphetamine epidemic to spread to Beaufort County.

For the most part, he is still waiting.

Aside from two discoveries this year of small meth labs, Stone said the highly addictive drug is not as much of a problem here as it is in other parts of the country and state.

Elsewhere in South Carolina, meth cases have soared. Law enforcement officials say a new, quick method of cooking methamphetamine has increased the drug's spread.

In 2012 -- six years after South Carolina began requiring those seeking to purchase pseudoephedrine, meth's key ingredient, to show ID -- the S.C. Law Enforcement Division reported 538 meth-related incidents.

That's four times the number reported in 2010.

Although deputies in southeast Georgia recently raided the largest meth lab ever discovered in Effingham County, just west of Savannah -- seizing about 150 pounds of a mixture of meth and other ingredients -- authorities say the days of large-scale meth manufacturing are dwindling.

Instead of the large labs in rural areas that conceal pots and tanks, meth makers are now "cooking" the drug in 16-ounce plastic drink bottles. According to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, the tools needed for this small-scale chemical method can be stuffed in a backpack and are difficult to detect.

It also has become the "No. 1 method for manufacturing meth in South Carolina," according to SLED spokesman Thom Berry.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office recently found what it called a "mobile meth lab" in a backpack on Hilton Head Island. The discovery Jan. 3 near Old Woodlands Plantation shut down the neighborhood while a bomb squad and hazardous-materials team responded.

The Sheriff's Office did not reveal the exact contents of the bag but said it contained chemicals and other materials, not yet used, needed to cook crystal meth.

Earlier this month, deputies also arrested a couple in a Beaufort hotel room who allegedly were making small quantities of the drug.

Tanner agreed with Stone that Beaufort County has not been "inundated" with meth cases as in other parts of South Carolina, but he said the Sheriff's Office is closely monitoring the growing trend of portable meth labs.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the number of labs and dump sites and discoveries of meth-making chemicals and equipment has steadily risen in South Carolina. In 2007, the DEA noted just 68 such discoveries; in 2012, there were 355.

To curb the problem, lawmakers two years ago limited the amount of pseudoephedrine a person can purchase and tracked it through a statewide electronic database. The drug, commonly found in cold and allergy medicines, is placed behind pharmacy counters, and pharmacists swipe a customer's driver's license to see if the limit has been met.

The law helped Sheriff's Office investigators shut down a small meth lab in a Bluffton home in December 2011. The database revealed that Bradley Roy -- who pleaded guilty to manufacturing meth at the home and is serving his sentence -- and his girlfriend purchased pseudoephedrine at different times and locations, Stone said.

Together, the pair were the "No. 2 buyers of pseudoephedrine" in the state, Stone said.

Although the legislation worked in that case, some say stricter laws might still be needed.

One S.C. legislator is drafting a bill that would make pseudoephedrine available only through a doctor's prescription, according to Jeff Moore, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs' Association. The organization will discuss its support for the effort later this year, he said.

Meanwhile in Beaufort County, Stone said prevention efforts will continue to curb the meth epidemic before it takes hold. Last year, the Solicitor's Office partnered with Beaufort County Council to air anti-meth public-service announcements on the County Channel.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison. Noelle Phillips of The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

Related content:

DEA map of all meth clandestine laboratory incidents, including labs, dumpsites, or chemical and glass equipment

Beaufort County pair charged again with making meth, Feb. 14, 2013

Sheriff: Contents of backpack found on Hilton Head likely for meth lab, Jan. 11, 2013

Two charged after search of Bluffton home turns up meth lab, Dec. 31, 2011

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