The number of methamphetamine labs found in Richmond County has increased in the past few years.
In 2008, 25 labs were found, and in 2009, there were 28, according to Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Partain.
From January to Nov. 4 of this year, 32 meth labs were discovered by the county narcotics division.
Partain says that the labs are getting smaller, more mobile and more volatile.
“We have found some small enough to fit in a lady’s purse,” he said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it has seen meth labs get smaller throughout Georgia.
Known as “one pot” or “shake and bake” method, smaller labs are popping up, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
A rise in fires related to meth labs can be seen, too. According to the Richmond County sheriff’s narcotics department, there have been seven meth fires so far this year.
In 2010, there were two, and in 2009, none.
“There is always a risk when you have cooks that don’t know what they are doing,” Payne said. “They are dealing with very dangerous chemicals.”
In October, there were two meth lab fires at Budget Inn on Gordon Highway, and a meth explosion at a house in the 3100 block of Bell Drive.
Partain agrees that the amateurs now manufacturing meth are inexperienced.
“Careless people are making it more dangerous,” Partain said. “They have no idea what they are getting into.”
Jim Langford, the executive director of the Georgia Meth Project, said that because of laws on some of the ingredients – namely tighter restrictions on pseudoephedrine – the bigger local meth producers have been forced out of business.
“We’re seeing a number of smaller labs than four or five years ago,” Langford said.
Usually the smaller labs are made for consumption only, not distribution.
According to the DEA and Georgia Meth Project, meth has more effect on non-users than any other drug. The example Payne used was the decline in house prices if there is a meth lab in the block.
Meth abuse costs Georgia about $1.3 billion a year, which includes the uniformed officers who search for it, the cleanup crews, jails and courts, Langford said.
He also said 70 to 80 percent of children in foster care in Georgia are there because at least one parent was involved with meth.
Georgia has become the meth hub for the United States, according to the DEA and the Georgia Meth Project. Officials are seeing it being smuggled in from Mexico and then transported to Atlanta.
The high visibility of meth in Georgia has necessitated organizations such as the Georgia Meth Project that go beyond law enforcement.
The Meth Project, which focuses on reducing meth use, took a poll of teenagers’ attitudes toward the drug. In 2010, 35 percent of respondents said they thought there is little to no risk of using meth once or twice.
In 2011, that dropped to 28 percent.
“We have to educate people,” he said.