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Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. (To date, there are no known evaluation studies of responses to the clandestine drug-lab problem; there are only practitioner experiences and impressions.) Several of these strategies may apply to your communitys problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: carefully consider who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
Dealing with clandestine methamphetamine labs requires an extraordinarily high level of technical expertise. Responders must understand illicit drug chemistry; how to neutralize the risks of explosions, fires, chemical burns, and toxic fumes; how to handle, store, and dispose of hazardous materials; and how to treat medical conditions caused by chemical exposure. They must also have a detailed knowledge of the numerous federal, state, and local laws governing chemical manufacturing and distribution, hazardous materials, occupational safety, and environmental and child protection. Police agencies cannot be expected to have all this expertise in-house. They must collaborate with fire officials, hazardous materials experts, chemists, public health officials, social service providers, and environmental protection officials.
Because methamphetamine production, trafficking, use, and incidental exposure potentially affect so many dimensions of community life, multiagency task forces are recommended for addressing community-wide methamphetamine problems. See the Stakeholders section above for a listing of agencies that should be considered for inclusion, in addition to criminal justice agencies. Developing and following multiagency protocols for responding to reports of clandestine meth labs helps ensure that all the dimensions of the problem are addressed appropriately.,
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998) [Full text] has published a guide to establishing clandestine drug lab enforcement programs that addresses many organizational, planning and resource issues.
See International Narcotics Control Board (2006) [PDF] for a description of some international efforts to control chemical sales and distribution. In the United States, the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988, the Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993, the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996, the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, and the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 all govern chemical transactions.
Educating police, chemical manufacturers and distributors, deliverers, and other regulators about the potential for and methods of chemical diversion can help prevent it, as can improved recordkeeping, container labeling, and customer identification practices.
Federal and parallel state laws play an important role in controlling chemical diversion. States with weak chemical diversion laws are susceptible to trafficking in illicit synthetic drugs., Targeting rogue chemical companies for investigation and prosecution for diverting chemicals for illicit drug production is a key component of the federal law enforcement strategy.,Police and prosecutors might develop criminal conspiracy cases against chemical and lab equipment companies that have knowingly supplied clandestine drug lab operators. Federal law now provides for civil fines up to $250,000 for illegal chemical diversion or lab equipment sales for illicit drug production., First responders to labs are well advised to save all chemical packages and containers to help investigators identify the chemical manufacturers and suppliers.
The National Institute of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration developed the Model State Chemical Control Act, which includes provisions for the following: state authority to regulate chemicals, registration and permitting systems, reporting requirements, purchaser identification requirements, permit suspension and revocation and applicant screening, investigative and enforcement powers, and legitimate commerce protection (Sevick 1993) [PDF]. The National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (www.natlalliance.org/publications.asp) frequently updates a roster of legislation in each state designed to control the distribution of precursor chemicals.
Some chemical companies reportedly derive up to half their revenue from diverting chemicals for illicit drug production (Saleem 1996).
The Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 establishes a reckless disregard standard of proof for a civil action, which is easier to meet than the more stringent intent standard for a criminal prosecution.
An unintended consequence of restricting sales of large amounts of chemicals is that it promotes the operation of smaller clandestine drug labs that require smaller amounts of chemicals to produce small batches of drugs. As chemicals for methamphetamine production become harder to obtain, some lab operators may shift production to other drugs, like amphetamines.
Controlling pseudoephedrine diversion from over-thecounter sales, wholesale and mail-order sales, and internet-based sales is also an important objective. The retail sale of precursor chemicals can be restricted in a number of ways:
In 2005, the online auction, portal eBay, banned the sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine in all transactions between users. Using filtering tools to search for keywords and encouraging registered users to report violations allowed eBay to prevent some pseudoephedrine sales (Herzog, 2005).
State legislation to combat methamphetamine production is constantly changing and therefore is not discussed specifically in this guide. Refer to Arledge (2005) [PDF] and Sanchez and Harrison (2004) [PDF] for the most recent summary of state legislation.
Thousands of common pseudoephedrine or ephedrine tablets are required to produce a single pound of methamphetamine. Among others, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Oregon have reported reductions in lab seizures after enacting various retail-level controls (Interagency Working Group on Synthetic Drugs 2005; Glover 2005) [PDF].
See King (n.d.) [PDF] for detailed recommendations on preventing anhydrous ammonia theft.
Controlling chemical sales and distribution requires vigilance because clandestine drug lab operators are constantly looking to circumvent and exploit loopholes in the various laws and regulations, and adapt by using alternative supply sources, chemicals, or production processes.
Researchers are also exploring ways to render certain precursor chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia, useless for methamphetamine production; the chemicals would still be useful for their lawful purposes. Much of the anhydrous ammonia used in methamphetamine production is stolen from farmers storage tanks; mechanical devices can be installed on storage tanks to make theft more difficult, and some jurisdictions have enacted laws requiring that anhydrous ammonia be stored and transported only in approved containers.,
Pharmaceutical companies are developing new lines of over-the-counter decongestants that contain phenylephrine instead of pseudoephedrine (Leinwand, 2005).
The transfer of anhydrous ammonia from one storage container to another leaves a telltale blue coloring on the valves.
Posters and billboards with specific contact information can encourage residents to report suspected clandestine labs.Washington County (Oregon) Sheriff's Office
A neighborhood-based effort, www.Leadonamerica.org, developed pamphlets with instructions for citizens to collect information police need to obtain search warrants for suspected methamphetamine labs (for example, license plate numbers, vehicle descriptions.) and includes a neighborhood activity log ("ABC News" 2005). Hanson (2005) discusses the outward signs of clandestine labs in detail.
Various chemicals that are used in or are by-products of methamphetamine production, such as phosphine, ether, ammonia, battery acid, and acetone, have distinctive smells. For example, phosphine smells like garlic, sulfur smells like rotten eggs, ammonia smells like cat urine, and acetone smells like nail polish remover.
The Portland (Oregon) Police Bureau, in collaboration with Campbell Resources Inc., produced tip booklets for hotel and motel operators, rental property owners, and ministorage unit managers on preventing their properties from being used as clandestine drug labs, and decontaminating property used as such (Campbell Resources Inc. n.d.; Oregon Drug Lab Cleanup Program 2004). Sandy City, Utah, police similarly trained hotel and motel managers and employees in the common suspicious indicators that people may be using rooms as labs (Thompson 1999).
A Missouri-based organization, Companies Helping Eliminate Meth, developed training kits for retail stores that include both video and printed materials (Pruneau 2005). Similarly, the Florida Retail Federation developed a sales training program for retailers who sell products containing pseudoephedrine. The program discusses key facts about methamphetamine, the applicable laws, retailers responsibility to deny sales, and penalties for failing to follow the law (Florida Retail Federation n.d.)[PDF].
Several jurisdictions have created special protocols and programs to address the needs of children exposed to clandestine methamphetamine labs. Child endangerment protocols and programs require cooperation and collaboration among police, prosecutors, and social workers. These protocols and programs typically involve medical screening of the children for toxicity and malnourishment, emergency and long-term foster care, and psychological treatment. Parents are prosecuted for child endangerment, if appropriate. Some states have enacted penalty enhancements for operating the labs with children present. (Similar protocols might be warranted for treating elderly or infirm people, or pets exposed to the labs).
Swetlow (2003) [PDF] provides guidance for developing multidisciplinary teams for protecting the interests of children discovered at methamphetamine labs.
Even though local Missouri police seize a large number of labs each year, very few officers are injured. Investigating officers must attend a 40-hour certification course patterned after the DEAs clandestine lab course. In a joint effort by the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources, nearly 700 officers have been certified (Schanlaub 2005).
Some jurisdictions also recognize the risks faced by prospective home buyers who may unknowingly purchase a residence previously used as a clandestine lab. Real estate laws can require the seller to disclose this information. A list of contaminated properties maintained by a state agency can connect this information to all title searches of properties for sale. Laws can restrict the sale, use, or lease of a property until it is properly decontaminated.
Some enforcement is nonetheless necessary to maintain a credible deterrent and to monitor the conditions and prevalence of labs. A good enforcement effort requires considerable resources and planning. Some police agencies conduct knock and talk campaigns whereby officers ask for consent to search properties for evidence of labs. As surprising as it might seem, this response does occasionally yield results. Police may also get tips from sanitation workers, firefighters, health care workers, or other public service workers who suspect they have discovered a lab during the course of their duties.
The Stanislaus County (California) Sheriff s Department equipped a van with an infrared sensor that detects changes in the atmosphere caused by the vapors released from methamphetamine labs. The sensor can detect vapors in an open space from a three-mile distance. The van cost approximately $750,000 (Giblin, 2005).
Criminal statutes that provide penalty enhancements for distributing large amounts of illicit drugs are not likely to be as effective in responding to the methamphetamine problem as they might be for addressing the marijuana, cocaine, and heroin problems, because methamphetamine is so easily manufactured in small batches for personal use. There appear to be relatively few drug kingpins in the methamphetamine trade. However, some states have enacted new criminal statutes or enhanced penalties to more directly address some of the particular activities associated with operating methamphetamine labs. Of course, new criminal statutes and penalty enhancements are not particularly effective if enforcement resources, including crime lab resources, are inadequate.
In 2005, Illinois created new offenses targeting those serving as look-outs for methamphetamine labs and those who dispose of toxic waste from methamphetamine labs. Those operating labs in motels, hotels, apartments, and condominiums also face mandatory prison time (Illinois, Office of the Governor, 2005) [PDF].
Similarly, arresting and prosecuting methamphetamine cooks has limited potential to effectively address the problem. Because methamphetamine is relatively easy to produce, the supply of potential cooks seems nearly inexhaustible. Enough methamphetamine abusers are eager to learn to cook, if only to ensure their own drug supply.Methamphetamine abusers who cook are almost certain to resume cooking given any opportunity to do so, including while on bail pending trial for drug charges.
Nearly 10 percent of one sample of arrested methamphetamine users said they cooked methamphetamine for themselves (Pennell et al. 1999) [PDF].
Among the most relevant federal statutes are the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1980, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (also known as the Superfund Act). The Clean Air Act; Water Pollution Control Act; Ocean Dumping Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act; Toxic Substances and Control Act; and National Environmental Policy Act may also apply in certain circumstances.
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