Sgt. Jason Grellner, of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department, has been busting meth labs since 1997, but all that experience did not prevent a "shake and bake" meth lab from exploding in his face.
"I'm missing 27 percent of my lungs," said Grellner, who is also president of the Missouri Narcotics Association. "I lost 27 percent of my lung capacity in 2002. I opened a container sitting in a driveway."
If that can happen to an experienced drug agent, it can happen to anyone—a curious child who stumbles upon a plastic bottle, or an adult who is picking up what is thought to simply be trash, said Grellner, who is the unit commander of the Franklin County Narcotics Unit, which works in conjunction with the St. Louis County Drug Task Force.
This is especially true since the "shake and bake" meth lab, which uses a plastic soda or water bottle, is being increasingly used.
"I dump my meth lab in your front yard, and your kids go out to play, or your kid picks up a soda bottle and gets burned. Or someone throws an active meth lab out their cair window, and you pick the bottle up when it's sitting along the road," Greller explained. "West County, South County and North County are going to experience more of that. These people think it's safer to manufacture meth in their moving cars where the cops can't find them, and then they throw the meth lab materials out the window."
The byproducts of manufacturing meth are highly toxic, and makers typically dump or toss these elsewhere, to avoid detection. This is how an unsuspecting, law-abiding citizen may be exposed to toxins.
Grellner said 90 to 95 percent of the meth labs area drug task forces are finding now are "shake and bake" where the meth makers are using anywhere from a two liter bottle to a 20-ounce waterbottle.
"We had a guy making meth in a backpack walking down a road. We've probably had 10 to a dozen car fires last year from meth labs, and it's not while the cars are parked on the side of the road," Grellner tells Patch.
Despite surrounding counties, including St. Charles and Jefferson counties, requiring a doctor's prescription to purchase the key meth-making material, pseudophedrine, St. Louis County does not have a prescription-only ordinance. Grellner said this is resulting in meth moving into St. Louis County, and he has the numbers to prove it.
"Oh we know it is," Grellner said. "When I talk to drug task force commanders...they tell me the labs they now find, the pseudoephedrine they now find in meth labs cromes from St. Louis County."
Grellner said drug agents are tracking pseudoephedrine purchased on a monthly basis and right now, purchases of the drug in St. Louis County are 300 to 400 percent higher than in past years. In the past, on average, chain pharmacies were selling approximately 200 to 300 boxes of pseudoephedrine each month.
Here is some of what investigators know about sales in February, which are the latest numbers available):
- Walgreens, 13992 Manchester Road (near Weidman) - 803 boxes sold
- Walgreens, 8571 Watson Rd. in Webster Groves - 1,006 boxes sold
- (no address) - 899 boxes sold
- - 886 boxes sold
- Maryland Heights - Walgreens (McKelvey & Dorsett roads) - 1,079 boxes sold
"Other stores that have spiked is the Creve Couer CVS on Olive (11560 Olive Blvd.). It sold over 11,068 boxes in February," Grellner said.
However, the number one spot in the area for purchasing pseudoephedrine right now is Fenton. The city is currently considering a prescription-only ordinance.
"Fenton is huge. All pharmacies are selling over 5,000 boxes a month in a town of 4,200 people or so," Grellner said. "Every meth lab I go to, at least one box (of pseudoephedrine) I find there has been bought in Fenton."
Grellner said when the key drug to make meth, pseudoephedrine, is being bought in St. Louis County, it is also being made here.
"I can tell you we are seeing people not just coming to St. Louis County to buy, they're coming to St. Louis County to live. These people are criminals. They don't have a good drivers license. They don't have insurance. They'll burglarize. They are criminals," Grellner said. "Here's the question people need to ask themselves: 'Is this the people I want coming into my community? Do I want them manufacturing meth while driving down Manchester Road at 40 miles an hour in five lanes of of traffic?'"
Grellner is working to pass a statewide law, House Bill 1952, that would require a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine. It would also allow an exemption for some newly developed products that can't be made into meth. A Maryland Heights pharmaceutical company has developed a technology that can prevent pseudoephedrine from being used to make meth. Grellner expects that to be available in the St. Louis market in the next month or so.