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LEAD officers wary that meth use in on the decline

For the second consecutive year the state of Washington has seen a decrease in the number of methamphetamine labs and dumpsites that have been located.

While Yakima County saw an increase in meth labs in 2002, in 2003 there was a decrease. But Det. Doug Hintze of the Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) task force isn't ready to say meth labs and dumpsites will stay on the decline.

He said the number of labs and dumpsites his team investigated decreased from 33 in 2002 to 25 in 2003, which doesn't include three or four dumpsites that didn't have any evidence and were not counted.

Hintze said the lower number of meth labs and dumpsites is not significant to how cases increased.

In 1998, when the local task force, which investigates cases throughout Yakima County, first started tracking meth labs, there was one lab found. In 1999, 10 labs or dumpsites were located and in 2000 there were 14 cases investigated. In 2001, there were 28 cases, Hintze added.

Up until 1998, cocaine was the biggest issue facing drug investigators.

"In 1998, it (meth) really hit us good," said Hintze, who added that the LEAD officers also investigate drug cases for Klickitat and Kittitas counties, which don't have drug task forces. "1998 is when we started investigating and processing labs ourselves," he said..

One of the reasons the reduction of meth labs can be attributed to is arrests made in the past few years. According to Hintze, there were several meth cooks who were operating multiple labs, who are now in prison.

Although the task force investigates a variety of different kinds of drug crimes, Hintze said at least 70 percent of the LEAD cases are meth cases or drug cases that include meth.

He said that a significant concern is children living in an environment where methamphetamine is made and used.

The manufacturing process is dangerous and can be explosive, said Hintze. He added that at one part of the process alcohol can catch fire and those making the drug may not see the flames.

Several people the task force have arrested have been injured during the process of making methamphetamine. Some have been burned and others have frozen their skin with anhydrous ammonia. In other cases there have been fires and explosions caused by the meth making process.

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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