Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs

The table below summarizes the responses to clandestine drug labs, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. 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.

Response No.

Response

How It Works

Works Best If…

Considerations

Monitoring Chemicals

 

1

Controlling the sale and distribution of essential and precursor chemicals used in clandestine methampheta-mine labs

Makes getting the necessary chemicals more difficult, thereby driving up drug production costs and potentially reducing demand

…enough of the avenues through which offenders obtain chemicals can be restricted or closed; efforts are made to ensure that retailers are aware of restrictions

Requires international, federal, state, and sometimes local legislation and enforcement; must balance restrictions with legitimate commerce needs; the cooperation of wholesale and retail chemical distributors is essential; restrictions on large amounts of chemicals may inadvertently promote small labs that require smaller amounts; may cause lab operators to improvise with even more-dangerous chemical alternatives; requires constant attention to react to offenders’ adaptations to restrictions; may unfairly limit legitimate access to consumer products

2

Altering the chemical composition of products used to produce methampheta-mine

Renders existing source of precursor chemicals unusable

…remaining products containing precursor chemicals are tightly controlled

Requires cooperation and significant investment from pharmaceutical and chemical companies; may cause lab operators to improvise with even more-dangerous chemical alternatives; requires constant attention to react to offenders’ adaptations

Providing Training

 

3

Training citizens to report suspected clandestine methampheta-

mine labs

Increases the probability that labs will be detected

…labs are operating in places subject to routine natural surveillance

Small labs are highly mobile, so reporting and enforcement must be quick

4

Training sales clerks to detect and report suspicious chemical and equipment purchases

Increases the probability that offenders will be prevented from procuring chemicals and equipment

…sales clerks’ employers put a high priority on preventing illicit sales

Some rogue wholesale and retail companies make a lot of money from illicit sales, and may not cooperate fully

5

Training police and other responders to identify potential clandestine methampheta-mine labs

Increases the probability that labs will be detected

…labs are being operated in places subject to responders’ routine surveillance

Requires specialized education

Protecting Those Exposed to Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs

 

6

Providing protective services to children exposed to clandestine methampheta-mine labs

Removes endangered children from lab hazards

…there are adequate child protective services in the jurisdiction, and established protocols to coordinate responses

Requires interagency cooperation and collaboration; may substantially increase the workload of child-protection services agencies and strain resources

7

Protecting first responders and others who come into contact with contaminated lab sites

Reduces risk of transfer contamination

…first responders are aware of labs’ existence before entering location; records of contaminated properties are kept current and accessible to the public

Requires significant investment in training and equipment; poses an administrative burden to maintain current property list

Treating Drug Addiction

 

8

Providing adequate resources to treat methampheta-mine addiction

Reduces the demand for illicit drugs, thereby potentially reducing the output and/or number of clandestine drug labs

…effective treatment programs can be identified or implemented

Requires a lot of resources to make adequate treatment readily available

Enforcing Laws Prohibiting Clandestine Methamphetamine Lab Operations

 

9

Finding and seizing clandestine methampheta-mine labs

Removes labs, thereby reducing the harms they cause

…there are a limited number of labs, and/or labs are difficult to replace

Seizing labs is costly and time-consuming, drawing resources away from other response strategies; small labs are highly mobile and difficult to detect; the costs of setting up small labs are low, so they are easy to replace; requires a lot of planning, coordination, and resources

10

Arresting and prosecuting clandestine methampheta-mine lab operators and cooks

Deters offenders through the threat of fines and imprisonment

…the risk of apprehension is sufficiently high

Many offenders are subject to conditional release restrictions, making surveillance of their activities relatively easy; there are many potential replacement offenders; offenders who are drug abusers are extremely difficult to deter from reoffending

11

Seizing and filing for forfeiture of clandestine methampheta-mine lab operators’ assets

Deters offenders through the potential loss of assets

…offenders have sufficient assets they want to avoid losing

Many offenders have few assets worth seizing

12

Enforcing environmental protection laws against clandestine methampheta-mine lab operators

Deters offenders through the threat of fines and other civil sanctions; potentially shifts the costs of cleaning up labs to the offenders

…offenders have sufficient assets to pay fines and costs

Many offenders have too few assets to pay large fines or cleanup costs; the standard of proof under environmental laws is usually less than that for criminal offenses

13

Filing civil actions against properties used for clandestine methampheta-mine labs

Closes, forfeits, or restricts the use of properties on which labs have been set up

…labs are operating at least semipermanently at targeted locations

Most labs are small and highly mobile; property owners often are unaware of illicit activity