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New worries about meth trends

After a decline in the number of labs in the US, amounts of the addictive drug have gone up.

Drug bust: Det. Joel Cunigan looks for meth making materials in a trailer in London, Ky.

J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT/Newscom

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After a dramatic decline over several years, the availability of methamphetamine – a highly addictive stimulant "cooked" with chemicals from over-the-counter cold medications – began to creep up in 2008.

The reversal, reported by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), worries law enforcement agencies. They've poured resources into treating an epidemic that crossed the country in recent years. Over 17,000 methamphetamine labs were discovered in 2004, tucked inside homes, barns, and vehicles. Among the dangerous byproducts: toxic waste, explosions, theft, and other crimes to support addiction.

"It's everywhere from soccer moms to someone who just got out of prison," says Sgt. Gary Higginbotham of the Jefferson County, Mo., sheriff's department, which led the nation in lab busts for the past several years.

In 2005, Congress passed restrictions on key ingredients ephedrine and pseudoephedrine found in cold and allergy medicines. It helped: during 2007, agents found just 5,910 labs. That year, Mexico banned all imports containing either chemical in an effort to curb exports by large-scale traffickers. The move helped create methamphetamine shortages in many parts of the country during 2007 and the first part of 2008, the NDIC states in its December report.

But several indicators suggest that since then, domestic production has increased to fill the void. Authorities say more small-time cooks are sidestepping federal regulations to obtain what they need to manufacture the drug.

The per-gram price of pure methamphetamine fell more than 30 percent, from $267.74 to $184.09, between the last quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of this year, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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