After making the first methamphetamine lab bust in Edgecombe County history, the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Office and other state law enforcement agencies are working to curb the problem.
Meth labs in the state are becoming a major concern for law enforcement agencies across the state. The number of labs have increased by the year and more and more children are being found inside buildings housing working labs.
Meth lab busts in the state reached a new high in 2012 as a simpler method for making small amounts of the drug spread statewide. At the same time, electronic tracking of pseudoephedrine buys are helping stop illegal sales and leading law enforcement to more meth labs, according to Attorney General Roy Cooper.
"Prevention efforts have helped hold down the number of larger meth labs but small ones are still very dangerous," Cooper said. "We need more law enforcement, better public awareness and continued use of the technology to fight this crime."
State Bureau of Investigation agents responded to 460 meth labs in 2012, compared to 344 meth labs in 2011 and 235 in 2010. Approximately 73 percent of the meth labs busted in 2012 used the "one-pot" method.
One-pot labs, also known as shake and bake labs, make smaller amounts of meth than previously seen larger meth labs. Criminals can cook meth in a plastic soda bottle using the small amounts of pseudoephedrine, which is found in cold medicine and is the illegal drug's key ingredient.
When the sheriff's office made its bust December 5, they discovered a one-pot operation run by 48-year old Jerry Harold Coffield, his 25-year old son Heath Braxton Coffield and 24-year old Chelsea Lou Pelliter. Law enforcement found it inside a storage building located in the middle of a horse stable.
The Coffield's and Pelliter case is moving through the court system and they are scheduled to appear before a grand jury June 28.
Officers learned about the lab when they stopped Jerry Coffield's truck on U.S. 258, near the U.S. 64 Bypass, and asked and was granted permission to search the vehicle. During the search, officers found a quantity of methamphetamine. Also inside was Pelliter's 2-year-old child. During the traffic stop, officers learned the trio had been smoking meth inside the vehicle in the presence of the child.
The labs are especially dangerous to children. Statewide, 120 children were removed from homes where meth was being manufactured last year — up from 82 the year before. Children who are around meth labs often suffer from exposure to dangerous chemicals as well as abuse and neglect.
A new electronic system that tracks purchases of pseudophedrine is helping to block illegal sales of that key ingredient and help lead law enforcement to meth labs. Approximately 54,000 purchases — a total of more than 66,000 boxes of pseudophedrine — were blocked in North Carolina last year by pharmacies using the system called National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx). The amount of pseudophedrine blocked could have produced up to 277 pounds of meth.
The NPLEx system now connects North Carolina with three neighboring states and 20 others nationwide, making it harder for meth cooks to skirt the law by crossing state lines or shopping at multiple pharmacies.
North Carolina began using the system to log all purchases of products containing pseudophedrine last January and nearly all pharmacies are now participating in the program. NPLEx automatically lets the retailer know if the buyer has reached the legal limits for pseudophedrine purchases during a 30-day time frame so the store can stop the sale.
State law limits purchases of products that contain pseudophedrine to no more than two packages at once and no more than three within a 30 day period. Purchasers must show photo identification and sign a log before ther purchase can be made.
The law also states that all medicines that contain pseudophedrine and ephedrine be placed behind the pharmacy counter.
SBI agents and other officers also analyze information from NPLEx system to identify potential suspects based on purchasing patterns or repeated attempts to make illegal buys.