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The number of lab cleanups fell after Congress passed an anti-meth law in 2006, data show.

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Illegal meth labs have become scarcer, and their federally funded cleanups have become cheaper, a new report shows.

Since 2006, when Congress passed an anti-methamphetamine measure, the number of meth lab cleanups nationwide "has decreased significantly," auditors found. Investigators attribute the decline to the law that made it harder to buy key chemicals used in illicit drug production.

Drug Enforcement Administration "officials attribute the decrease in cleanups ... to the passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which imposed significant restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine manufacturers," inspector general auditors noted.

The report, however, doesn't indicate whether meth use has declined in the United States.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted late last month that in recent years, meth production "was displaced over the border to Mexico." The amount of methamphetamine seized near the U.S.-Mexico border nearly doubled from 2007 to 2009, the annual U.N. drug report stated.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration funded the cleanup of a record 11,790 methamphetamine labs in fiscal 2005. In fiscal 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, the DEA funded the cleanup of 3,866 labs, including 190 in Florida.

Contract improvements and other revisions also cut the average cost per lab cleanup from $3,600 in fiscal 2007 to $2,200 in fiscal 2009, auditors with the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General noted approvingly.

California - which in 1999 was ruefully dubbed a "source country" for its ample meth production, particularly in the remote rural stretches of the Central Valley - had only 13 meth labs cleaned up by the DEA in fiscal 2008, the new audit notes. Though state authorities cleaned up additional labs not counted by the DEA, law enforcement officers generally like the overall trend.

The anti-meth law, signed by President George W. Bush in March 2006, limits the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be sold, moves products containing it behind the pharmacy counter and imposes record-keeping requirements.

Meth math

Fiscal year DEA lab cleanups 2008 3,866 2007 3,405 2006 4,744 2005 11,790 2004 9,825 2003 8,631 2002 7,243 2001 6,390 2000 4,505 1999 3,846

Source: Justice Department's Office of Inspector General