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Late last year, Kentucky State Police trooper John Hawkins told WFPL the increase in meth lab busts was so sharp that police were on track to find more than one thousand before the end of the year.

Well…that happened.

Kentucky State Police (KSP) released the 2010 methamphetamine lab statistics today and the number indicates an all-time high in the Commonwealth. KSP reports that there were 1,080 meth labs found during 2010, exceeding all previous year totals.

The top five counties with the highest incidents of meth lab occurrences were Jefferson (154 labs), Laurel (113 labs), Warren (70 labs), Barren (57 labs) and Hardin (53).

There’s legislation pending in the General Assembly that would make decongestant and meth ingredient pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. The bill has the support of many law enforcement officials (but not all), and it has a number of opponents as well. It’s not clear whether the bill will pass both chambers of the General Assembly, but if it does, it’s also not clear whether Governor Steve Beshear will sign it.

Programs that track the purchase of cold medicine that may be used to make meth is not stopping the meth trade. In fact, it’s creating more criminals.

That’s what the Associated Press found in a recent investigation. The programs are designed to keep individuals from purchasing enough over the counter drugs to make meth. For years, manufacturers sidestepped these laws by recruiting smurfs (sometimes called smurfers). The AP reveals that not only does smurfing increase several years after a tracking system is put in place in a state, but the smurfs have created a sizeable illegal market for legal drugs.

The stricter alternative is to make certain cold medicines prescription-only. But scheduling drugs creates a new set of problems:

Oregon began requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine products in 2006. Mississippi became the second state to do so in July, and Missouri’s governor is asking lawmakers to follow suit in 2011.

If more states do the same, it could be devastating for makers of cold and sinus pills. The pseudoephedrine market is estimated at more than $550 million annually.

Opponents of prescription laws say they punish mostly law-abiding consumers for the crimes of a relative few.

But many law enforcement officials say it’s hard to argue with Oregon’s success. The state had 191 meth incidents in 2005, the year before the prescription-only law. By 2009, it had 12.

Iowa has become the latest state (following Kentucky, among others) to track pseudoephedrine (PSE) purchases. PSE can be used to make meth, and tracking systems are often proposed as the less onerous alternative to making PSE prescription-only.

But in Iowa, the ACLU is questioning how private the records will be.

Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, told Lews his officers don’t need subpoenas to search the system but are required to complete special training to use it. Randall Wilson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, called for a court order to authorize such searches so citizens won’t have “law officers root(ing) through their medical affairs without a specific reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.”

Law enforcement officers are likely to say the court orders will slow them down when they need to find meth cooks. However, if a court order is not required, then it seems that, in Iowa at least, you must give up a certain right to privacy to purchase a certain type of cold medicine.

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