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Meth retreating, with help of Colorado task forces

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Methamphetamine appears to be making a retreat in Colorado.

The number of meth-lab busts in the state dropped from a high of 450 in 2002 to 46 in 2007, according to the National Clandestine Laboratory Database. Last year the North Metro Task Force serving northern Denver-area communities busted two small, mobile meth labs, compared with about 100 a year from 2002 to 2005.

“We have turned the tide on methamphetamine in the United States,” said Jeff Sweetin, agent in charge at the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Denver. “I think when you look at methamphetamine, what you have is a model. When communities say ‘No more’ and when law enforcement and retail and all these other things come together, we can have a huge impact.”

Colorado’s 19 drug task forces have cracked down on dealers, and retail and federal restrictions have been enacted on the sale of the drug’s base ingredient ” ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, commonly found in cold medicines.

Meanwhile, Mexico imposed a ban on imported ephedrine and border security tightened, crippling cartel-controlled Mexican “megalabs.”

The tightening supply has sent the cost of an ounce of meth from about $900 in early 2006 to more than $2,000 early last year, helping deter some users.

Other drugs may be filling the void. Last week, federal agents seized 17 pounds of heroin and 5 kilograms of cocaine, marking the biggest haul of narcotics in Mesa County’s history.

“Whac-A-Mole is exactly how it is,” said Sgt. Jim Gerhardt, an investigator with the North Metro Task Force. “Respond to a trend, stomp it out, and something else pops up. People are just switching to other types of drugs.”

Some sources of funds to fight meth are shrinking. The federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program provided nearly $3.3 million to 19 Colorado drug task forces in 2004. Last year, 13 drug-specific task forces received $242,000 from that program.

Many task forces also face pinched local budgets, meaning fewer investigators.

The 2009-2010 stimulus plan from President Barack Obama’s administration has set aside more than $2 billion in drug-fighting grants for law enforcement.

Colorado drug-fighting teams and treatment programs expect to receive about $17.9 million, and the state and statewide law enforcement expect to receive $25.9 million. The money is budgeted to begin flowing in September and will probably be spread over four years, according to the Colorado Division of Justice.

Thomas Gorman, director of the four-state Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, said the money will help build on momentum of the work done by the task forces.


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