Officials say discrepancy in meth lab statistics easily explained
Clandestine meth lab busts in West Virginia have either increased dramatically over the last five years or dropped off almost completely, depending on which agency does the counting.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency reported 59 methamphetamine lab incidents in West Virginia last year.
But according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, law enforcement officials busted 271 labs in 2012.
For 2011, the federal government recorded 92 meth lab incidents, which include labs, lab dumpsites or chemical and glassware seizures.
The DHHR statistics recorded 171 busts in 2011, which included both active and inactive labs but not meth dumpsites.
Officials say the discrepancy in meth lab statistics is easily explained: reporting to the Drug Enforcement Agency is voluntary, while state law requires reporting lab busts to DHHR.
Tony Turner, assistant director of DHHR's Radiation, Toxics and Indoor Air Division, said the state began collecting statistics in 2008.
He said the state did not receive complete statistics right away, since it took a while for local police to learn they needed to report every meth lab bust to the agency.
"It took time to educate," he said. "Every year they have improved. Some of them can fall through the cracks I'm sure, but they have improved greatly."
In 2008, police reported 50 meth lab busts to DHHR, which Turner said were likely incomplete statistics. Compare that to this year, with 369 labs reported since January.
Turner said most police agencies now report meth lab busts to State Police, which reports the busts to DHHR.
Reporting to the federal government has fallen off over the last several years, however.
Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Rusty Payne said reporting meth labs to the federal government is not mandatory. He said agencies might report lab busts months afterward, "or they may not report it at all."
"We don't claim that it's 100 percent accurate," he said.
The statistics used to provide a more accurate picture of meth lab incidents. Congress, for the last two decades, provided grants through its Community Oriented Policing Services program to help states clean up meth labs.
The Drug Enforcement Agency administered those grants and, each time a police agency would call to request funds, the DEA would enter that meth lab into its database.
Congress allowed funding for the cleanup grants to run out in 2011, however, so police agencies stopped calling the DEA to request funding.
As a result, the agency received far fewer reports of meth labs, Payne said.
Funding for the grant has since been restored, but Payne said the money is now prioritized for states with meth lab container programs.
Those programs allow police to dump each discovered lab in a central container to later be cleaned up, rather than cleaning each individual lab site.
West Virginia does not have a container program, so it does not receive as much cleanup funding from the DEA.