Local Matters Year-End Update
Mar 14: A March 14 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot column posed the question, “How has Vermont avoided the crystal meth epidemic?”  At the time, reports from the Drug Enforcement Administration indicated that in 2010 only three labs were found here, compared to 1197 in Tennessee and 1624 in Missouri — both states that are as rural as Vermont.
Similarly, a nationwide survey measuring state-level methamphetamine use ranked Vermont 45th in the nation; only 0.17 percent of Vermont respondents admit they’ve used the drug. Local police either couldn’t explain or were reluctant to theorize about why Vermont’s meth market was so meager.
Agent Todd Scott at DEA headquarters in Washington, D.C., suggested it could be attributable to a commonly used method of cooking meth, which requires anhydrous ammonia, a chemical fertilizer found primarily on large farms. Not surprisingly, the meth epidemic grew rapidly in rural states with industrial agriculture, such as Indiana and Kentucky.
Vermont, by contrast, has fewer large farms, and anhydrous ammonia is harder to find. While some western states have been “inundated” with meth produced by Mexican drug cartels, Scott said the East Coast stuff tends to come from “mom-and-pop” labs that produce smaller quantities of the drug.
Update: Several high-profile meth lab raids in the last six months, including ones in Hinesburg and Island Pond, reveal that meth production is probably more widespread in Vermont than was previously believed.
Lt. Reg Trayah commands the Clandestine Lab Team for the Vermont State Police. He says that in the last year, he’s doubled the size of his team — from six to 12 members — to combat the rising number of illegal labs being discovered in Vermont.
“I can’t remember us having any more than two labs a year,” says Trayah, who’s been on the team since 1999 and became its head in 2010. “But since last November, I think we’ve had six.”
Of particular concern, Trayah adds, is the number of labs found to be using the “one-pot” method — mixing chemicals in a single, 20-ounce plastic jug, then waiting until enough pressure builds up to produce crystal meth. The process is so explosive, he says, that when such a lab is found, he deploys the explosive ordnance disposal team to “disarm” it.
The bad news, says Trayah: “I have never spent as much time on the Clandestine Lab Team as I do now.”
The good news: Because Vermont is always slightly behind the times on crime trends, the state saw this coming. It made a commitment in the late 1990s to put this team together.
“Now that it’s hitting us a little harder,” Trayah says, “We don’t have to play catch-up.”