MAMa FAQ's #7

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More information can be found in Crystal Meth: They Call it Ice.

I have reported the meth lab across the street to the police a dozen times and nobody is doing anything about it. Do the police even care?

Ice is not limited to the big cities anymore. Methamphetamine is fast becoming a rural problem, with clandestine labs sprouting like clover in the countrysides. There are two reasons for this: First, the labs emit a strong odor that is difficult to hide in a metropolitan area. It is typically made in a chicken house on ten acres with no neighbors, thus one of its nicknames, 'high speed chicken feed'. Second, the level of law enforcement is usually lower in the rural areas of the nation, where three or four sheriff's deputies police up to 50,000 people. Labs are easily hidden and highly mobile. They can be dismantled and moved in one day. It can be made in a motel room or a college dormitory; some stages of the process can be done in a space as small as a shoebox. The trunk of a car is plenty of room for a lab.

Methamphetamine lab seizures have plummeted nation wide since the federal government passed the Combat Meth Act in Sept of 2006. This law regulates the legal sale of pseudoephedrine, the base chemical used to manufacture methamphetamine. However labs are still found, especially in rural areas, as addicts 'smurf' from store to store buying legal quantities of psuedoephedrine in each store, and trading it for finished methamphetamine. Large quantities of psuedoephedrine are also smuggled in to the country by traffickers, since the penalties for smuggling pseudoephedrine are less than those for smuggling finished methamphetamine.

Many clandestine meth labs are housed in middle class neighborhoods, next to elementary schools, where families live in close proximity. They are run by intoxicated and armed men who are ready to shoot to kill. The "cooks" making this stuff are not concerned about where they dump the solvents and byproducts from the manufacture of methamphetamine. Children living in or near these homes are exposed to the toxic chemicals and fumes resulting in brain damage and other health problems. Two-year-olds play with canisters of nitroethane and breathe in the fumes of anhydrous ether. Babies crawl among puddles of phenylacetone, and then put their fingers in their mouths. Many states have made it a felony to have children living in a meth lab. Adding felony child abuse to the charges keeps the cooks in jail longer.

A meth lab is a serious toxic waste disposal problem. The cooking process yields five to six pounds of toxic waste per pound of product, which is usually dumped down the toilet or spilled on the ground. These chemicals are flammable and explosive chlorinated solvents and carcinogens, and they are in your local sewage treatment facility and ground water supply. Byproducts and waste include things like benzyl cyanide, sodium cyanoborohydride, benzaldehyde, and nitric acid. When a lab is dismantled, the waste has to be disposed of, and the chemicals are usually incinerated-an expensive process.

You are the eyes and ears of your local police department. You are looking for canisters of anhydrous ammonia and discarded cans of Red Devil Lye accumulating in the yard. Cooks go through thousands of packages of Sudafed or Actifed to get the ephedrine they need to make methamphetamine. They will dispose of the discarded packaging in their burn pile. You might notice large quantities of Coleman fuel, lithium batteries, and books of matches in the garbage, starter fluid, murantic acid for cleaning swimming pools, rock salt, toluene, or iodine. Be alert to unusual odors. The fumes may have the overwhelming odor of cat urine, or smell like the chemistry lab when you were in high school.

When you report a lab in your neighborhood, don't be surprised if it takes awhile for the authorities to crack down on it. They are a lot more interested in making arrests than shutting down the lab. It won't do anyone any good to just bust the lab and confiscate the chemicals if the cooks are still at large. Often, a set of cooks will operate labs in multiple locations, and the lab you see doesn't get busted at all, but the people responsible for it are arrested at another location. Police will often then watch the lab in your neighborhood to see if any more 'roaches' move in and resume production.



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