NORFOLK -- Despite efforts to stop the meth cookers in the Virginia, experts say the problem is getting worse.
'The last couple of years, the trend for methamphetamine labs in Virginia has doubled,' said James Gregorius, the DEA's assistant special agent-in-charge for Virginia.
In the past three years, the number of meth labs statewide went from 28 in 2008, to 108 in 2010, to 217 in 2011. Gregorius says the problem is moving from West to East.
'The trend has always been, and it remains, in Southwest Virginia. There's where the bulk and majority of the labs are but it has trended eastward,' said Gregorius.
13 News obtained a log of 17 suspected meth labs in and near Hampton Roads since last November:
- 11 1-11 Colony Rd in Newport News;
- 12-7-11 Chilworth Ct in Virginia Beach;
- 12-15-11 Mobile Lab in York County;
- 12-15-11 two labs on Duncan Drive in York County;
- 12-15-11 Wilkins Drive in York County;
- 12-15-11 Rodane Drive in James City County;
- 12-15-11 Penniman Rd in James City County;
- 2-6-12 Strant Street in Norfolk;
- 2-15-12 GW Hwy in Hayes;
- 2-28-12 N Miliary Hwy in Norfolk;
- 3-1-12 N Hampton Blvd in Virginia Beach;
- 3-1-12 Midway Drive in Courtland;
- 3-1-12 two labs on Jerusalem Road in Courtland;
- 3-9-Pacific Ave in Virginia Beach;
- 3-14-12 Indian River Rd in Virginia Beach.
Sheriff Danny Diggs of the York-Poquoson Sheriff's Office says meth labs are a relatively new problem to the area.
'Oh I don't think it was any of an issue 10 years ago,' said Diggs. 'I was surprised to see meth in a really suburban setting like this.'
An undercover narcotics officer told 13 News one possible reason for more meth labs is new techniques for cooking.
Single batch labs are the norm for Hampton Roads. The method is commonly known as 'shake-and-bake' where meth cookers mix all the ingredients in a plastic bottle.
They're small and easily hidden, unless you know what to look for.
'If you see some batteries and some Sudafed and some ice packs and a 2 liter Coke or Pepsi bottle, you might have a lab,' says Gregorius.
Sometimes meth makers will do their cooking on the go. After scraping out the drug, they simply toss the bottle out the window.
But there's a new tactic to combat the growing meth problem. This spring, Virginia's General Assembly passed a bill to create a pharmacy database to track the sale of over-the counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine used to make meth.
'When someone buys a suspicious amount, we can then kind of look into it and say, 'why are they doing this?'' said Diggs, who was head of the Virginia Sheriff's Association that spearheaded the new law.
In past cases, meth cookers have had underlings, known as 'smurfs,' who go from drugstore to drugstore buying the legal limit of pseudoephedrine. Police say that was in the case in the chain of meth cookers busted in York and James City Counties in December 2011.
Officials say what's at stake in the battle against meth is not just preventing life-crippling addictions - it's keeping officers and the public safe from potentially explosive labs, which can be just about anywhere.