Drugs seized off the streets in the 16th Judicial District in the year 2003 totaled $2,152,740, according to 16th Judicial District Drug Task Force Chief Investigator Scott Russell.
Four hundred one cases were opened within the 16th Judicial District which includes the following breakdown by county: Fulton County 65; Izard County 37; Stone County 14; Independence County 227; and Cleburne County 58.
Recovered stolen property valued at $31,900 was seized by agents, and 56 search warrants were executed. Weapons were encountered during 62 of the arrests, Russell said.
The following is a breakdown of the types and amounts of drugs seized: methamphetamine 60.95 ounces, cocaine 25 grams, crack cocaine 10.5 grams, marijuana 198.5 pounds and 1,206 marijuana plants, Russell calculated. In addition prescription drugs including Oxycontin, Darvocet, Hydrocodone, Xanax, Percocet and Valium were also seized.
Agents seized 90 clandestine laboratories in 2003. Of that number 10 labs were raided in Fulton County and nine in Izard County. Drug task force agents opened a total of 321 cases in 2002 and raided 92 clandestine laboratories, Russell said.
Agents now have to contend with a new situation -- the manufacture of ammonia clandestinely. In past years persons manufacturing methamphetamine using the "Nazi" method, which uses anhydrous ammonia, would purchase the ammonia through the black market or steal it, Russell said.
Two agents were hospitalized last year with symptoms of chemical pneumonia after busting methamphetamine labs.
"We are basically taking down a bomb when we take down a lab. It's a dangerous deal with the solvents and ammonia nitrate," Russell said.
Russell explained the two methods of methamphetamine production -- Nazi method and red phosphorous method.
Anhydrous ammonia and lithium batteries are used to produce the Nazi method which became popular during wartime. He said German troops were given the drug by their leaders to keep alert so they could become fighting machines.
Iodine crystals are used to make the drug using the red phosphorous method.
He said 85 percent of the labs in Fulton County use the Nazi method.
Most labs seized in the district using the Nazi method also have an ammonia production lab assembled. This doubles the amount of time and paperwork involved in the seizure of the lab site, Russell said.
It's extra work to dismantle the labs because each chemical has to be identified and separated. HazMat cleanup crews have to clean each tank thoroughly and carefully.
It takes about four hours to clean up a lab, but with the addition of an ammonia lab it takes eight to 10 hours, he said.
A small one-reaction vessel lab costs between $2,000 and $5,000 to clean up. A larger lab costs taxpayers about $10,000, he added.
He said the Nazi method has become popular because unlicensed chemists learn the recipe on the Internet or through sources in the prison system. "It's a simple process. It caught on and spread like wildfire," he said.
Agents have also busted labs that produce ammonia only. He said it's easier than making methamphetamine.
Drug task force agents assisted other agencies during the year by helping in burglary and theft of property investigations and serving outstanding warrants, Russell said.
The drug task force lost one full-time officer in August 2003 following budget cuts in a grant which funds the task force, Russell said. The agent who was laid off worked primarily in Fulton and Izard counties.
The remaining agents worked to maintain the case load and even increased the total number of cases from 2002, Russell added.
Russell said he attributes the number of labs seized to the cooperation from the public and private business owners in the district.
"Without the cooperation and information from the public, a lot of suspected drug activity would go unnoticed," he said.
The drug task force welcomes any information. Callers do not have to provide a name or phone number. All calls are kept confidential, Russell added.
The 16th Judicial Drug Task Force can be contacted at 870-793-3622 or at night by calling the Independence County Sheriff's Department dispatch at 870-698-2436.