“To investigate a meth case for prosecution requires a lot more time and paperwork than a pill case,” said Allen, a certified lab responder who is called on to clean up busted meth operations in several counties. “From investigation to clean-up can take several days. You can do a controlled buy in a pill case and have it wrapped up that evening.”
Jason Murphy has a meth problem.
The 33-year-old Casey County native is 18 months into a 10-year prison sentence he received after pleading guilty to manufacturing meth. Murphy said he cooked nearly every day for 10 months before getting caught in September 2010 after his partner’s ex-wife ratted them out to police.
“I didn’t sell my dope, I used my dope. I was an addict. I thought I had the system figured out, doing really deep thinking about staying one step ahead of everybody. The consequences never crossed my mind because I was too smart to get caught,” Murphy said during an interview at the Casey County Detention Center. “It’s taken a toll on my family life. It went straight down the toilet. I lost my wife. I lost my home. I lost almost two precious years with my little girl.”
While the number of meth cases is steadily rising in Casey County, the number of labs reported to Kentucky State Police across the state is showing a significant decline so far this year. There were a record total of 1,233 labs reported in Kentucky in 2011. Through May of that year, 648 labs were reported. Through the same time period this year, only 465 have been turned in, according to Lynne Spencer, a crime information analyst for KSP’s Drug Enforcement Special Investigations branch.
“We were told years ago it was coming our way. It just took time to catch up to us,” Allen said, explaining Casey County’s current rash of meth labs.
The recent rise in meth labs in Casey County and across the state is directly linked to the rise in popularity of the one-pot method of cooking the highly addictive stimulant that allows even a novice to pull up a recipe on a smart phone, spend about $30 on easily available materials and cook up a batch in about three hours.
“It’s easy,” Allen said. “You can put it in the trunk of your car, drive around drinking beer for a couple of hours and you’re ready to go.”
The essential ingredient in all home-cooked meth recipes is pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in popular cold and allergy relief medicines that is only one molecule different from the chemical make-up of methamphetamine.
Such medicines remain available over the counter in Kentucky, but buyers must show identification and sign for their purchases, allowing authorities to keep track of who is buying how much under a program called MethCheck. A person can only buy 24 grams a year without a prescription.
That allows meth cookers to get their hands on enough cold tablets to make small batches at a time. Many rely on so-called Smurfs, who purchase the tablets, or “boxes,” and trade them for the finished product. A box that sells for about $5 retail can fetch as much at $50 from a desperate meth cooker, Wright said.
Cookers develop a loyalty to certain brands of cold tablets, which can affect the color and quality of the meth they build their reputations on.
“A lot of people take pride in their methods, just like old ladies baking pies,” Wright said.
Murphy agreed, saying he preferred boxes of the Equate brand containing 20 pills available at Walmart for $5.36, which would yield about 2.5 grams of meth, which commonly sells for $100 a gram.
“It made the prettiest, fluffiest dope there ever was,” he said. “But everyone who cooks thinks their dope is the best.”
Murphy said he came to his meth addiction after years of abusing other drugs.