INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana apparently led the U.S. in terms of methamphetamine lab seizures last year, according to state and federal statistics that experts acknowledge are imperfect.
And before those numbers can be substantially reduced, state residents could face a hard choice between their own convenience and fighting drug crimes.
The most recent statistics from state and federal sources show Indiana had about 1,800 meth lab incidents last year, followed by Tennessee with about 1,500. Missouri had about 1,400 -- a drop of one-fourth from 2012.
But experts warned Tuesday that exact numbers are slippery and can fluctuate from one month to the next. That's because the Drug Enforcement Administration, which tracks such statistics, relies on states to report all of their seizures -- and states don't always do it.
"We're only as good as the numbers that are sent to us," said Eric Neubauer, a special agent of the El Paso, Texas, branch of the DEA, which tracks drug statistics. The statistics track only where meth abuse stands at a given moment.
But, he said, "I think these are very, very close.
One thing Jason Grellner, the chief narcotics officer for Franklin County, Mo., is sure of: That 25 percent drop in Missouri came after the state began allowing communities to require prescriptions for pseudophedrine, a decongestant that's a major ingredient in homegrown meth.
The 14 counties in southeast Missouri that require prescriptions for pseudophedrine have experienced an 80 percent drop in meth lab seizures, he said. Two pharmacies that had been selling 24,000 boxes of the decongestant a year dropped to 2,000 after the area began requiring prescriptions, he said.
Back in Indiana, State Police First Sgt. Niki Crawford, commander of the agency's methamphetamine suppression section, said the public has to decide on its priorities.
"I think there are a lot of labs out there. It's too easy to get your hands on those chemicals," Crawford said.
But state police don't push for legislation, so she won't say whether the department is in favor of pseudophedrine prescriptions.
"I think that's up to the public to work with their legislators," Crawford said.
Indiana state Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, doesn't see prescriptions as an effective strategy.
"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction to the problem," he said. "It will inconvenience a lot of people who need this product without accomplishing its goals."
Eliminating meth labs won't eliminate meth, much of which is smuggled from Mexico, Yoder said.
"It's a much wider problem than some people suppose," he said.
Dennis Wichern, special agent in charge at the Indianapolis office of the DEA, agreed that much of the meth in the U.S. is imported, but said it isn't as simple as that.
"The homegrown is every bit as problematic or more, because of the children involved and explosions and stuff like that," he said.
Easy access to pseudophedrine is part of the problem, he said.
"It causes extreme pain and misery throughout the nation when it's turned into meth," Wichern said.