Methamphetamines

.. its manufacturing capabilities. (KBI, 1997, p.22) When a methamphetamine laboratory is seized, hazardous waste materials, such as chemicals and contaminated glassware and equipment, must be disposed of properly. Many of these materials are reactive, explosive, flammable, corrosive, and toxic. The danger is compounded by the fact that many federal, state, and local law enforcement officers lack adequate training in clandestine laboratory safety procedures and regulations, hazards, and other related health and safety issues.

(University of Kansas, 1995, p.2) Although the quantities of hazardous materials found at a typical methamphetamine laboratory are relatively small when compared to waste generated from a major industry, the substances to which law enforcement personnel and others may be exposed present very real public health concerns. (Lannone, 1998, p.36) Methamphetamine laboratories present both acute and chronic health risks to individuals involved in the seizure and cleanup of the facility, to those who live and work nearby, and to the violator operating the facility. The problems are further complicated when the chemicals are stored at off-site locations such as rental lockers. The lack of proper ventilation and temperature controls at these off-site locations adds to the potential for fire, explosion, and exposure to humans. Methamphetamine laboratories may contaminate water sources and soil. In some cases, contamination may spread off site.

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Careless or intentional dumping by the laboratory operator is one source of contamination. Spilling chemicals on the floor or dumping waste into bathtubs, sinks, toilets, or on the grounds surrounding the laboratories, and along roads and creeks are common practices. Surface and groundwater drinking supplies could be contaminated, potentially affecting large numbers of people. (http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/meth/production.htm ) Perhaps the greatest risk of long-term exposure is assumed by unsuspecting inhabitants of buildings formerly used by clandestine drug laboratory operators where residual contamination may exist inside and outside the structure. “These hazardous chemical substances pose the most significant threats to the law enforcement officials and other first responders (fire and health department personnel) that initially secure the site. Threats to the surrounding human population and environment also exist, making these clandestine drug labs a significant threat until the hazardous materials can be analyzed, properly categorized, managed and then properly disposed.” (Collins) Today’s meth labs can be compared with the illegal moonshine stills of earlier days.

The drugs can be made with a skillet and stove, in a bathtub, or even the trunk of a car and the recipe can be found on the Internet. Why is it so popular? There are several reasons. For the maker and seller, a $1,000 investment can make a $20,000 profit. For the buyer, it’s the cheap man’s high. A $100 buy of cocaine can give a user a 20-minute high. The same amount of meth can keep a user high for a day or two. In other words, more bang for the buck.

(KBI, 1997, p. 6) Clandestine lab elimination is not just a law enforcement responsibility; it is also a public health and environmental problem. The governing body must bring all of the appropriate players into action. The responders must know their roles and responsibilities when they take down a laboratory. First, funding must be increased. Cleanups of labs are extremely resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most jurisdictions.

Consequently, if we divert resources from other drug problems to clandestine laboratory enforcement and cleanups, other drug problems will increase. (Moxley, 1992, p. 136) Second, federal leadership must coordinate and set a training standard. Equipment and intelligence programs also must be developed. Agencies need to conduct more baseline research and develop plans that show the resources and coordination required for a successful cleanup.

Finally, there is a need for training for personal protection. Responders need to know what methamphetamine is and how it is made. They must know typical locations and the look and smell of clandestine labs. This awareness training is needed especially in rural jurisdictions, as these areas are preferred by lab operators, they are not easily observed and can work anonymously. Methamphetamine has been called the “crack of the 1990s,” with methamphetamine-related emergency room admissions and deaths skyrocketing in the United States, particularly in the West.

Rural areas have been hit particularly hard. In some regions, hospitals have seen as much as 1,000% and 2,000% increases in admissions from the drug in the last 10 years. (Weisheit, Wells, 1996, p.396) Law enforcement and substance abuse centers in Kansas have observed an increase in the prevalence of methamphetamine. The Kansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services reported an increase of 359% in methamphetamine primary problem admissions from Fiscal Year 1994 to Fiscal Year 1997. The Kansas Highway Patrol reported Interdiction Unit seizures for methamphetamine increasing from 1994 to 1997. Clandestine laboratory seizures reported to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Agency in Kansas have also increased over the same period. Methamphetamine accounts for up to 90 percent of all drug cases in many Midwest communities. (http://www.kbi.org) What is being done by officials to curb this ever-present problem? Recent initiatives by local, state, and federal leaders have been brought up to eliminate this problem.

One such program is the Life or Meth Campaign. This campaign includes TV public service announcements, anti-methamphetamine posters, media kits, school counselor kits, chambers of commerce kits, and teen editor press kits. Another step taken to help control the problem is the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996. Because there are no quantity limitations or uniform reporting requirements for iodine and red phosphorous, the chemicals needed to manufacture methamphetamines, law enforcement’s ability to trace these chemicals is severely handicapped. The Control Act of 1996 establishes new controls over key chemicals and strengthens criminal penalties for possession and distribution of these chemicals. (http://www.senate.gov/~feinstein/meth1.html) As rural communities struggle just to survive, they also must struggle to win back their communities and eliminate the imposing drug problem.

Without proper funding, training, and support from each level of government the production, trafficking, and use of illegal substances will almost surely increase. Methamphetamine production creates a unique and deadly combination to unsuspecting rural communities. Only through educating, support, and dedication, will this problem be controlled.