The head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation says the focus should be on reducing demand for illegal drugs after an agency report showed an abundant supply is driving down the price of methamphetamine.
“The problem is demand,” said Kansas Bureau of Investigation director Kirk Thompson. “No matter what the drug is, law enforcement can’t solve that problem alone. The demand by our citizens, the demand from people here for the illegal drugs, drives that supply chain.
“Until we can all work together and address addiction … what we are seeing is significantly higher levels of drug abuse. Drug abuse and drug use fuel so much of the crime that we see in this state.”
The recently released 2021 annual methamphetamine report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation show the black market economics of illegal drugs have driven down the price. The lifting of pandemic restrictions also meant more meth at lower prices in Kansas.
An ounce of meth cost about $500 last year, down from $675 in 2020 and $1,075 in 2014. The price per pound was $4,000, down from $5,000 and $14,000, respectively.
“The price for purchasing methamphetamine on the street drastically dropped from 2014 to 2019 due to the increased production and importation of Mexican methamphetamine,” the KBI report states. “Due to this increased availability of imported methamphetamine, the demand for domestically produced methamphetamine has declined.
“In 2020, travel restrictions enacted by governments during the pandemic reduced the availability of methamphetamine and increased the price paid by consumers. In 2021, prices dropped as governments removed travel restrictions.”
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Thompson told The Capital-Journal after a law enforcement town hall at the KBI laboratory in Topeka that the focus should be on reducing demand. Sen. Jerry Moran hosted Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray at the event.
State and national efforts have been largely successful in reducing domestic meth production.
“Our methamphetamine is being manufactured south of the border, generally, and it is coming into our state in much greater volume … and much more purity,” Thompson said.
Domestic production remains low, according to the KBI report.
Kansas law enforcement reported 12 meth lab incidents last year. That’s up from three in 2020, which was an all-time low, but significantly lower than the 387 lab incidents in 2005. That year, the Legislature restricted access to the precursor chemicals ephedrine and pseudoephedrine used in the manufacturing process.
The 12 labs found last year included three in Cowley County, two each in Haskell and Wilson counties, and one each in Allen, Cherokee, Leavenworth, Montgomery and Woodson counties.
One-pot meth labs are the most common in Kansas and the U.S. That method of production is typically done in a small plastic bottle, making it portable and easy to conceal.
“Most of the methamphetamine available in the U.S. is produced in Mexico by drug trafficking organizations and smuggled across the border,” the KBI report states, citing the Drug Enforcement Administration. “This methamphetamine is produced in large quantities at high purity levels. Should domestic production of methamphetamine continue to decline, it is likely that it will still be readily available due to this low-cost, high-purity alternative originating in Mexico.”
Moran said during the town hall that greater border security was needed to address drug smuggling, as well as more federal support for local law enforcement.
“We need to get resources on our borders,” Moran said. “What comes across is a key component, and it needs a lot more attention than it’s receiving. … Methamphetamines still remains one of the most significant challenges we face in Kansas.”
“Meth has been at the heart of much of the drug abuse in Kansas,” Thompson said, adding that synthetic opioids are a growing problem.
The highly potent fentanyl has garnered more public attention in recent years, in part due to the death count attributed to the synthetic opioid. But meth remains a bigger problem for law enforcement in Kansas.
More:Kansas authorities take down massive fentanyl-laced drug operation
“Until we all work together and try to reduce the demand — and law enforcement is more than willing to stand up and try to address the supply chain — that as long as there’s a strong demand in our communities, it’s going to be very, very difficult,” Thompson said.
“If there’s no demand for a product, there’s going to be no sales of that product,” Thompson said. “There’s going to be no organizations that develop to bring that product in. So yeah, I think in the equation demand is always the driver.”
The KBI is under the attorney general’s office. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has shown interest in addressing the supply of and demand for drugs.
Last month, Schmidt announced approval of the opioid lawsuit settlement with major pharmaceutical distributors and a manufacturer. Kansas is expected to received $190 million over the duration of the settlement payout, which may take as long as 17 years.
“The money they must pay for the harm their past actions have caused will be dedicated to preventing and addressing drug addiction throughout Kansas,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt, who is running for governor, has also taken an interest in border security.
Last month, Schmidt wrote of a visit to the border in Texas with other state attorneys general. He said much of the violent crime in Kansas is connected to drug smuggling and human trafficking across the border.
“They showed us,” Schmidt said of Texas law enforcement officers, “which houses and other structures on the Mexican side are owned and used by the cartels and explained how cartels pay spotters – often children – to sit along the Rio Grande and report the location of patrol boats so smugglers know when the coast is clear.”
Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.