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Drug unit seeks funds for new agent

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

MOULTON — Lawrence County's drug unit needs another agent to combat an increase in meth use, said Drug Task Force Commander Amard Martin.

Martin is sending the state a grant request for $25,000 more than the task force received last year. If approved, the Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office, the county commission and municipalities would have to match the increase.

The additional $50,000 would be enough to cover a new agent's salary, benefits and fuel, said Martin.

Another officer on the team would allow the task force to investigate more meth cases, which have increased this year, said Martin.

Agents saw a decrease in meth use and production after the state passed a law in 2005 requiring drugstores to keep a log of customers purchasing pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in meth, he said. It has increased as criminals have learned to get around the law.

"A lot of the criminals are getting smarter now," he said. "They have started getting co-conspirators to go into the drug stores and buy the ephedrine pills. Then someone will go in a few minutes later and buy another box."

The Drug Task Force busted three meth labs last month and continues to monitor drugstore logs but needs more manpower to keep the problem from getting worse, said Martin.

Decreases in state funding have cut the task force from five agents in 1995 to only two agents.

The cuts have had an impact on the number of cases the unit can handle, said Martin.

"We can only do so much. We only have two people working this whole county, making it impossible to work four or five investigations at a time," he said.

"We have to take just one at a time because you need two officers on an investigation for (safety reasons)."

Even with the decreased manpower, the two-man drug unit has handled 200 cases since Oct. 1, only 25 fewer than the number of cases made in 1998 with four agents.

"Two hundred cases is pretty good when you've only got two agents working. With another agent, we could probably get 100 more," said Martin.

Martin, with approval from the County Commission, is asking the state for $70,000. If approved, his total budget for 2008 would be $140,000.

The total budget for this year is $90,000.

"This is really just a wish list, so it's not set in stone," he said. "But we really need the new agent, so hopefully, we'll get the funding."

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