Problem remains despite drug law

AIKEN --- This time, police say it was a tell-tale smell of chemicals that tipped them off that something wasn't quite right with the house on Musterfield Road in Jackson.

Authorities were called out because of vandalism, but detectives ultimately carried off a resident accused of making methamphetamine.

The arrest early this month was the latest that led to a meth lab shutdown in Aiken County.

Since the sheriff's office gutted its narcotics unit late last year, new drug detectives have cleaned out 15 meth labs. The previous investigators shut down nine the two years before.

"We have seen an increase in meth use, and have responded by stepping up our enforcement efforts," sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank said.

About three years ago, state lawmakers tried to curb meth use by putting drugs with a key ingredient behind the counter. They reasoned that if it was harder to get pseudoephedrine, meth makers would stop.

Georgia also requires medicines with pseudoephedrine -- such as Sudafed -- to be behind the counter, and limits how many pills a person can buy at one time.

Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Robert Partain said putting such medicines out of reach is causing meth makers to "do a lot more work to get it."

He said his agency hasn't measured whether the restrictions have affected usage of the medicine, but "they are still getting it. Multiple persons going to multiple places."

Columbia County hasn't had the same problems, sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. The agency shuts down an average of three to four meth labs a year, he said, but have found none this year.

Lt. Frank said putting cold medicines behind the counter has helped detectives in meth investigations. The process identifies the people buying the medicines, he said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.

COUNTY NUMBERS

- The Aiken County Sheriff's Office has broken up 15 methamphetamine labs since November. Detectives shut down nine in the two years before that.

- The Richmond County Sheriff's Office didn't have an exact number available but said the numbers were similar to Aiken County's.

- Columbia County has had the fewest -- no labs found this year, and four last year.

Sources: Aiken, Richmond and Columbia counties' sheriff's offices