Iowa Department of Public Safety records state that Iowa law enforcement agencies dismantled nearly 1,200 meth labs in 2003; in 2004 almost 1,500 labs were shut down. In 2005 amd 2006, the numbers dropped to 760 and 345, respectively. In the first five months of 2007, the number of meth labs dismantled in the state stands at just 70.
This is a remarkable turnabout and appears to be the result of three primary anti-meth tactics. In 2002, Iowa began installing locks on anhydrous ammonia tanks. Calcium nitrate was also added to the ammonia in some tanks. In 2005, the state enacted one of the toughest laws in the country, restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are cousin chemicals found in over-the-counter cold, cough and allegery medications.
According to Iowa state law, pseudoephedrine has been a Schedule V Controlled Substance since 2005. As such, it cannot be sold from self-service store shelves, but must be kept in licensed pharmacies and dispensed on a non-prescription basis by a pharmacist. The person buying products with pseudoephedrine must be 18, and the pharmacy must keep a record of who buys it.
Anhydrous ammonia is a gas that, in Iowa, is used primarily as an agricultural fertilizer. It is also a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth in illegal labs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anhydrous ammonia carries a pungent odor, and the dense fumes can cause chemical burns and serious respiratory irritation. It is not typically available for sale to the public, unless a buyer is licensed. Therefore, thefts from the large anhydrous tanks that hold the fertilizer is a common occurrence in rural areas, especially during crop planting season. The CDC says the theft of the ammonia from unattended tanks is dangerous. Valves on the tanks are often left open as the ammonia is being siphoned. Other times the ammonia is dangerously transferred into inappropriate containers, such as propane tanks, or wrong hoses or fittings are used on the makeshift storage containers.
Calcium nitrate is one of several additives that have been developed and used to curb anhydrous ammonia thefts, according to the CDC. Calcium nitrate mixed into the ammonia renders it useless for meth production.
Every county in Iowa is now involved in efforts to curtail the theft of anhydrous ammonia through the installation of almost 24,000 valve locks on the tanks that are often left unattended and unsecured in farm fields or agribusiness parking areas.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin played a key role in getting federal funds for the program to lock up anhydrous ammonia tanks. Now he is working to get legislation through that would bolster methamphetamine prevention education and treatment programs.
Since the squeeze has been put on meth labs in Iowa, most meth used in the state now comes in from other states or from Mexico.