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This guide addresses the problem of clandestine methamphetamine labs. U.S. state and local police report that methamphetamine trafficking and abuse has become their most pressing illegal drug problem in recent years, surpassing even crack cocaine.
Although offenders manufacture a variety of illicit drugs in clandestine labs [e.g., amphetamines, MDMA (ecstasy), methcathinone, PCP, LSD, and fentanyl], methamphetamine accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the clandestine labs total drug production. Many of the responses to methamphetamine labs also may be appropriate to other types of drug labs.
The drug commonly referred to as "ice" is a smokable form of crystal methamphetamine.
This guide does not provide technical details on all the aspects of clandestine methamphetamine labs. Rather, it provides a general overview of the problem and of responses to it. It begins by describing the problem and reviewing factors that increase the risks of it. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem and what is known about them from evaluative research and practice.
Clandestine methamphetamine labs are but one aspect of the larger set of problems related to illegal drug manufacturing, trafficking, abuse, and associated crime, and a coherent strategy, whether at the international, national, regional, state, or local level, should address all aspects of these problems. This guide is limited to addressing the particular harms created by clandestine methamphetamine labs. Related problems not directly addressed in this guide include:
For comprehensive discussions of pharmacological effects, use patterns, user characteristics, legal status, appearance, ingestion methods, availability, production, and methamphetamine trafficking patterns, see the websites of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at http://www.dea.gov/concern/amphetamines.html, the National Drug Intelligence Center at http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/topics/drgrpt2.htm, and the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy at http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/methamphetamine/, as well as Pennell et al. (1999) [PDF] and Eng (1999) [PDF].
Clandestine methamphetamine labs cause three main types of harm: (1) physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns, and toxic fumes; (2) environmental hazards; and (3) child endangerment.
Mixing chemicals in clandestine methamphetamine labs creates substantial risks of explosions, fires, chemical burns, and toxic fume inhalation. Those who mix the chemicals (known as cooks or cookers) and their assistants, emergency responders, hazardous material cleanup crews, neighbors, and future property occupants are all at risk from chemical exposure. The long-term health risks such exposure poses are not yet fully known, but one must assume they are significant.
Chemicals in clandestine drug labs can burn the skin, as happened to this meth lab cook. Salt Lake City Police Department
Many lab cooks do not take basic lab safety precautions. Using heat to process chemicals poses a higher risk of explosion, although indirect heat in the processing areasuch as from smoking, electrical switches or even equipment-generated frictioncan also trigger explosions. In addition, police forced entry into labs can cause explosionssome accidental, and some triggered by booby traps set by lab operators. (The published literature commonly reports that lab operators are often well-armed, but how many shootings occur during lab seizures is unknown.) Despite a decrease in the number of reported fires and explosions over the past few years, the number of police injured when responding to methamphetamine labs increased during that time. Poor lab ventilation increases the risks both of explosions and of toxic fume inhalation. On the other hand, good ventilation spreads toxic fumes outside, where they put other people at risk. Heating the chemical red phosphorous can create phosphine, a deadly gas.
About three to six people working in clandestine U.S. methamphetamine labs die each year from explosions, fires or toxic fumes. One out of every five or six labs discovered is found because of an explosion or fire. A survey of those who cook methamphetamine revealed one-quarter had experienced a fire while cooking and, in one-fifth of these, no emergency services were called. Those present tended to leave the premises without warning others, which is particularly dangerous in multiunit buildings.
Each pound of manufactured methamphetamine produces about 5 to 6 pounds of hazardous waste. Clandestine drug lab operators commonly bury or burn the waste on or near the site, or dump the waste along the road or into streams or rivers. Others pour waste down the drain, place it in household or commercial trash, or store it on the property. Dumping toxic waste into trashcans and commercial dumpsters puts sanitation workers at risk. The water used to put out lab fires can also wash toxic chemicals into sewers. In addition, toxic waste can be transferred from surfaces and equipment onto the body and clothing of those in contact with the lab, and can subsequently contaminate other locations. More research is needed to understand this toxic dumpings long-term environmental effects. Residual contamination of the ground, water supplies, buildings, and furniture may last for years.
Many jurisdictions are now finding that children are commonly exposed to the hazards of clandestine methamphetamine labs. In 2003, police found more than 3,000 children at methamphetamine lab sites. Young children frequently put their hands in their mouths, have higher metabolic and respiratory rates than adults, and have developing central nervous systems, all leaving them vulnerable to harm from inhaling, absorbing, or ingesting toxins from chemicals. About two-thirds of children found at labs seized by police tested positive for toxic levels of chemicals in their bodies. Others suffer burns to their lungs or skin from chemicals or fire. Some have died in explosions and fires. Many are badly neglected or abused by parents suffering from drug abuses effects. (Senior citizens whose caretakers are lab operators are similarly vulnerable. Pets, including guard dogs, can also be harmed.) When police agencies start targeting labs for investigation and seizure, social service agencies and family courts should be prepared for increased workloads, as well.
Food that is accessible to children is often contaminated with methamphetamine. Some of the food in this refrigerator tested positive for methamphetamine. The three containers of liquid are methamphetamine in solution. Drug Endangered Children Program, Learn Associates Inc.
There are two main types of clandestine methamphetamine labs. One is the super laba large, highly organized lab that can manufacture 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine per production cycle. To date, super labs are concentrated in southern California and Mexico. The other type is small-scale labs, often referred to as mom and pop or Beavis and Butthead labs. These labs can manufacture only 1 to 4 ounces of methamphetamine per production cycle. Their operators typically produce enough drugs for their own and close associates use, and just enough extra to sell to others to finance the purchase of production chemicals. A third, though far less common, type of lab called a dirt lab has emerged in recent years. Small-scale lab cooks seek out areas where super labs dump their toxic waste, dig up the soil, and try to extract the residual methamphetamine.
For readers not of the MTV generation, Beavis and Butthead are portrayed as two moronic teenage television cartoon characters. The characters are not connected to illicit drug manufacturing in the program. Their personalities simply remind some drug enforcement officials of the personality profiles of clandestine drug lab operators and illicit drug users.
Smaller labs can be set up with basic lab equipment and household appliances. Salt Lake City Police Department
Generally speaking, the two lab types present different challenges for police. Although perhaps 90 percent of all labs are of the small-scale type, the super labs account for up to 80 percent of all methamphetamine produced. So, from a supply-control perspective, they are of far greater concern. However, the small labs account for far more explosions, fires, uncontrolled hazardous waste dumping, and child endangerment. This is largely because less-skilled cooks operate the small labs, using more-primitive equipment and facilities. Many small-lab cooks are parents and methamphetamine abusers themselves, and their drug dependency leads them to neglect their childrens welfare. So, if the challenge is to reduce explosions, fires, environmental damage, and child endangerment, then the small labs are of greater concern.
Clandestine labs have manufactured illicit drugs since at least the 1960s, but the problem has become much more widespread in the past 15 years or so, largely because of methamphetamines growing popularity. Perhaps the main reason methamphetamine has become so popular is that it is now simpler to produce: detailed instructions for doing so are readily accessible on the Internet, and new manufacturing methods allow production from an assortment of reasonably easy-to-acquire chemicals. Consequently, an increasing number of people have set up labs to produce methamphetamine for their own use. Because methamphetamine is very addictive, the more people who experiment with it, the more people who become dependent on it, and the more demand there is.
Instructions for manufacturing illegal drugs are now readily accessible on the Internet.
Methamphetamine production in clandestine drug labs was prevalent in California, and in and around Philadelphia, in the 1980s. Southern California remains the predominant manufacturing region, but production has since spread to many other areas in the United States. Both Mexico and California have super labs. Some drug organizations prefer to manufacture methamphetamine in California because they then have to smuggle only the production chemicals across the border, rather than the finished product (the penalties for smuggling methamphetamine are more severe). Methamphetamine manufacturing and abuse are now considered serious problems in nearly all parts of the United States. Police have now seized labs in all 50 states. The National Clandestine Drug Laboratory Database was established in 1999 to monitor lab-related trends.,
The El Paso (Texas) Intelligence Center houses the database, which federal, state and local police agencies can access.
Labs are now routinely found in all sorts of environmentsfrom rural farms and fields to suburbs, to urban centers. Operators often set up labs in rental property, including farmhouses, apartments, hotels and motels, and self-storage units. Thus, they can move quickly, avoid the risk of losing property to asset forfeiture, and avoid the risk of being held liable for hazardous material cleanup costs. Small labs are even found in vehicles. Small labs are highly mobile; operators can set up and dismantle them with relative ease.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs dominated methamphetamine production until Mexican drug trafficking organizations began to use their cocaine and marijuana production, smuggling and distribution networks to expand into the methamphetamine trade. Although some motorcycle gangs still produce methamphetamine, many others now serve as distributors for the Mexican organizations. These organizations can acquire some of the production chemicalsnotably, ephedrine and pseudoephedrinein bulk quantities on the international market because, until recently, Mexico has not sought to effectively control the importation of these chemicals, unlike the United States and other countries.
Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, identify key stakeholders, and select appropriate responses.
Drugs manufactured in clandestine labs are the product of mixing chemicals. Lab operators must either procure or manufacture those chemicalsbe they essential or precursor. An estimated 34 different chemicals can be used to produce methamphetamine. Among the most common are ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, red phosphorous, iodine, hydrochloric acid, ether, hydriodic acid, and anhydrous ammonia. Some of these chemicals are also used to produce other illicit drugs. The United States does not manufacture ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine; all supplies of these chemicals originate in other countries.
Essential chemicals do not remain part of the final product's chemical structure, whereas precursor chemicals do (Sevick 1993) [PDF][PDF]
See Sevick (1993) for a comprehensive list of essential and precursor chemicals, and Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998) [PDF] for descriptions of the chemicals' toxic effects. See Manning (1999) [PDF] for detailed descriptions of the stages of the methamphetamine production process, the chemicals required, the chemical processes, and the respective hazards of each chemical and process.
Recently, hypophosphorous acid has been used as an alternative to red phosphorous. The use of hypophosphorous acid significantly increases the risk of fire (Valle, Ikegami and Crisp, 2003).
Germany is the largest producer of ephedrine; China and India are major exporters of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; and Taiwan and Japan are major exporters of phenylpropanolamine. Most of the ephedrine smuggled into the United States comes through Mexico (U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy 1998).
A variety of chemicals such as red phosphorous, seen here on the left, can be used to produce the methamphetamine, seen here on the right. Salt Lake City Police Department
The essential and precursor chemicals can be diverted into the illicit drug market in various ways, among which are the following:
Police and other regulators should be alert to suspicious business practices that might indicate attempts to divert chemicals to clandestine methamphetamine labs. Chemical manufacturers, wholesale and retail distributors, freight handlers, agents, and brokers are all potential sources from which chemicals can be diverted. They can be diverted from factories, import and export points, transportation systems, and disposal and recycling plants.
See Sevick (1993) [Full text]for a description of some indicators.
Lab cooks can derive some of the chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine from materials available for purchase without regulation at retail outlets. Among these materials are cold and allergy medications, lye, rock salt, battery acid, lithium batteries, pool acid, iodine, lighter fluid, matches, fireworks, road flares, antifreeze, propane, paint thinner, and drain cleaner. (Commonly used equipment includes glass jars, rubber tubing, sports drink bottles, coffee filters, gasoline cans, hotplates, and pillow cases.)
Curiously, retailers with no history of catering to the needs of cold sufferers, such as tobacco stores, arcades, clothing stores or pet stores, may carry products containing pseudoephedrine (Minton 2005).
Some jurisdictions are starting to imposeand some vendors are voluntarily adoptingquantity restrictions on purchases of these medications (see response 6).
Iodine solution is commonly used in the shoeing of horses.
Some of the chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine can be derived from products available for purchase without regulation at retail outlets. Salt Lake City Police Department
There are three main cooking methods for producing methamphetamine:
The red phosphorous method used to be termed the "cold cook" method, but this can be misleading: cooks may or may not use heat to speed up the cooking process.
The phenyl-2-propanone method is less common today, largely because its main precursor chemical, phenyl acetic acid, has been strictly regulated and is hard to obtain; it takes longer to produce methamphetamine; and it produces a less pure and less potent form of the drug, a form with worse side effects. Most methamphetamine cooks now use the latter two methods, in which ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is the main precursor chemical. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are comparatively easier to obtain: they are commonly found in cold and allergy medications. The red phosphorous method also uses iodine. In addition, the Nazi dope method also uses lithium or sodium metal strips and anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural fertilizer, to synthesize the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Thefts of anhydrous ammonia from farmers storage tanks are almost always connected to methamphetamine production. The terms for these various methods can be confusing; they are sometimes confused even in the published literature. Police will need in-depth training in the chemical processes to fully understand the different ways methamphetamine is produced.
Lab cooks using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine can make a batch of methamphetamine in anywhere from two to 12 hours (depending on the batch's size and whether the cooks use heat to speed up the process); it takes about twice as long using phenyl-2-propanone (Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions 2000 [Full text]; Campbell Resources Inc. n.d.).
Although many people can learn to produce small batches of methamphetamine, relatively few develop the skills necessary to manufacture large, high-quality batches. Few clandestine methamphetamine lab cooks have much, if any, formal chemistry training. Most learn from other offenders, including family members, or by following instructions obtained from underground sources. , Some lab operators do their own cooking; others hire cooks. Some cooks hire themselves out to several drug trafficking organizations, getting paid in either cash or a portion of the drugs they produce. The average cook in a study of small-scale labs made about four to six batches of methamphetamine per month, producing about 12 pounds of the drug and 77 pounds of toxic waste per year. Most cooks are male, in their 30s, and of middle and lower socioeconomic statuses. Methamphetamine users who also produce or sell the drug are likely to seriously abuse it.
Within three years, an estimated 250,000 people were taught to cook methamphetamine in the Los Angeles area. The internet plays a relatively minor role; most cooks learn from a friend or relative. The average cook teaches someone else to cook methamphetamine about once every 90 days (Valle, Ikegami, and Crisp 2003).
In addition to the lab operators and cooks, other people may be employed to buy and store chemicals, lease property, procure and set up equipment, and perform other production tasks. The four main lab roles are those of the operator (or foreman), the cook, the workers who perform many of the menial and dangerous tasks, and the security staff. Operators commonly target low-income people, often immigrants, to lease their property for temporary use as a lab or to work in a lab. Some loose, informal networking exists among lab operators and cooks, who share information and employees.
As with most crime problems, methamphetamine production has peak periods. Although there are no national data, one jurisdiction found that approximately two-thirds of the methamphetamine produced was cooked between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Most cooks said they preferred to cook on the weekdays, not on the weekends, a pattern which was consistent with police lab-seizure data showing a spike on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Identifying temporal trends can help to identify days and times with higher risks of lab fires and explosions.
By most accounts, clandestine methamphetamine labs can be highly profitable. A modest investment in chemicals, equipment, and labor can yield substantial profits in wholesale or retail methamphetamine sales, although profit estimates vary considerably. Some of this variation depends on the availability of chemicals, the purity of the methamphetamine, the regions of the country where the drug is manufactured and sold, and the size and sophistication of the lab.
Methamphetamines wholesale and retail costs likewise vary, with official estimates as follows:
However, most cooks in small-scale labs manufacture methamphetamine for their own personal use, rather than for street sales.
Cleaning up clandestine methamphetamine labs is an enormously complex, time-consuming and costly undertaking. Seizing a lab potentially makes a police agency liable for some of the costs of cleaning up on-site hazardous materials. If the lab is operating when police find it, it must first be safely neutralized so that it does not explode or chemically contaminate the environment. Then, the immediate and apparent hazardous-materials must be cleaned up and disposed of safely. Police usually contract with certified hazardous-material disposal companies for this task. Seizing even a small lab can take four or more hours. Storing evidence and conducting laboratory analysis of chemicals are similarly time-consuming and costly. Many jurisdictions are finding that the demands of processing evidence are straining their forensic laboratory resources. Finally, there is the question of a more permanent cleanup (or remediation) of the site to eliminate the long-term hazards posed by residual chemicals. Much is still unknown about such hazards, so we do not fully know how serious the risks of exposure to contamination are. Consequently, many issues regarding the costs and responsibility for cleanup remain unsettled. There are few, if any, established standards for acceptable contamination levels. Complete remediation is seldom done because of the cost, and owners abandon some property rather than undertake that task. Public health and environmental officials, rather than police, will likely have to take the lead on remediation. New legislation or regulations may be required to establish and enforce remediation standards.
Among the useful publications on the technical aspects of lab clean up are Hannan (2005) and Vandeveld (2004).
All emergency responders to clandestine methamphetamine labs, police included, must be properly trained and equipped. The costs of training and equipment are substantial. Many police agencies remain ill-prepared to seize the labs.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established guidelines and requirements that govern exposure to clandestine drug labs (see the Code of Federal Regulations at 29 C.F.R. 1910.120). The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard (1990) have jointly published a document titled Guidelines for the Cleanup of Clandestine Drug Laboratories [PDF], available to police agencies.
Disposing of chemicals at clandestine drug labs requires special training and equipment. Salt Lake City Police Department
The average cost of cleaning up the immediate and apparent hazardous materials in an average-sized clandestine methamphetamine lab ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. It can cost up to $150,000 to clean up hazardous materials in the larger super labs. Thorough decontamination of even an average-sized site has been estimated to cost around $50,000. Some statutes allow prosecutors to try to recover the cleanup costs from convicted defendants. Federal and state funding that might be available to help local jurisdictions with immediate cleanup costs typically does not cover long-term remediation costs.
The information provided above is only a generalized description of clandestine methamphetamine labs. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.
In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the clandestine methamphetamine lab problem and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:
The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of clandestine drug labs, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.
See Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text] for the protocol used to interview methamphetamine arrestees.
Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)
The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to clandestine methamphetamine labs:
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.
Broken Arrow (OK) Police Department. (2002). Operation dont meth around. [PDF] Herman Goldstein
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Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (2003). Cleanup of clandestine methamphetamine labs: Guidance document. [PDF]
Crime and Violence Prevention Center. California Attorney Generals Office. (n.d.) Clandestine drug labs. [PDF] Honolulu (Hawaii) Police Department.
McEwan, T., Uchida, C.D., Castellano, T.C., et al. (2003). Combating methamphetamine laboratories and abuse: Strategies for success. [PDF] Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Michigan methamphetamine control strategy. [PDF] (2002).
Minnesota Department of Health. Cleanup guidelines. [PDF] (2003).
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Missouri Department of Health, Section for Environmental Public Health. (n.d.) Cleaning up former methamphetamine labs. [PDF]
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National Drug Intelligence Center. (2003). Methamphetamine laboratory identification and hazards: Fast facts. [PDF]
North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services, Division of Public Health, Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance Program. (n.d.). Clandestine methamphetamine laboratories information and safety sheet: Injury prevention for first responders, firefighters, law enforcement. [PDF]
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Swetlow, K. (2003).
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Washington State Department of Health. Division of Environmental Health. Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Video: Clandestine drug labs: Kitchens of death (Law enforcement version). Crime and Violence Prevention Center. California Attorney Generals Office.
This video provides basic survival information for law enforcement officers related to the identification and investigation of clandestine drug labs. Safety guide included.
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||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|1||Controlling the sale and distribution of essential and precursor chemicals used in clandestine methamphetamine 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 methamphetamine||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|
|3||Training citizens to report suspected clandestine methamphetamine 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 methamphetamine 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|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|6||Providing protective services to children exposed to clandestine methamphetamine 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 properties list|
|Treating Drug Addiction|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|8||Providing adequate resources to treat methamphetamine 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|
|#||Response||How It Works||Works Best If...||Considerations|
|9||Finding and seizing clandestine methamphetamine 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 methamphetamine 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 methamphetamine lab operators||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 methamphetamine lab operators||Deters offenders through the threat of fines and other civil sanctions; potentially shifts the costs of||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 methamphetamine 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|
3 Irvine and Chin (1997); Jenkins (1999); Sevick (1993)[Full text]; Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996); Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; Indiana State Police (1997)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
8 Valle, Ikegami, and Crisp (2003).
9 Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004)[Full Text].
11 Schanlaub (2005).
13 Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000)[Full text]; U.S. Senate (1999a)[Full text]; U.S. House of Representatives (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); Eng (1999)[Full Text]; Manning (1999)[Full text]; Doane and Marshall (1996); Indiana State Police (1997)[Full text].
19 Valle, Ikegami, and Crisp (2003).
21 Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000[Full text], 1996); U.S. Senate (1999a)[Full text]; U.S. Methamphetamine Interagency Task Force (2000)[Full Text].
22 Jenkins (1999).
24 Jenkins (1999); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996).
30 Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2001[Full Text], 2000[Full text], 1996); Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; U.S. Senate (1999a[Full text], 1998); Hargreaves (2000)[Full text].
33 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996); Jenkins (1999); Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); U.S. Senate (1999a)[Full text]; Singh (2001)[Full text]; Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text].
34 Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000[Full text], 1996); U.S. Senate (1999a, 1999b[Full text]); Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
38 Valle, Ikegami, and Crisp (2003).
41 U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); Nieves (2001).
42 Nieves (2001); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996).
44 Valle, Ikegami, and Crisp (2003).
45 Jenkins (1999).
46 Sevick (1993)[Full text]; Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Senate (1998); U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); Perlman (2000).
53 Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (2000[Full text], 1996); U.S. Senate (1999a[Full text], 1999b[Full text], 1998); U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); Snell (2001); Perlman (2000); Hargreaves (2000)[Full text]; Doane and Marshall (1996).
54 U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
58 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996); U.S. House of Representatives (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Methamphetamine Interagency Task Force (2000)[Full Text]; Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
62 U.S. House of Representatives (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996); U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (2006[Full Text], 2004[Full Text]); Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text].
68 U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
69 Rice (2005).
70 Shaffrey (2005); Frazier (2005); Vacco (2005).
71 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (1996); U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998).
74 Perlman (2000).
75 Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; Indiana State Police (1997)[Full text]; Eng (1999)[Full Text]; Idaho State Police (2000)[Full text]; Salt Lake City Police Department (2003)[Full Text]; Broken Arrow (Okla.) Police Department (2002)[Full Text].
81 U.S. House of Representatives (2000)[Full Text]; U.S. Methamphetamine Interagency Task Force (2000)[Full Text]; Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; Copple (2001); Manning (1999)[Full text]; Indiana State Police (1997)[Full text]; Salt Lake City Police Department (2003)[Full Text].
83 Schanlaub (2005).
84 Garrett (2004).
85 Vogt (2001).
86 Prah (2005).
93 Bureau of Justice Assistance (1998)[Full text]; U.S. Senate (1999b)[Full text]; Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions (2000)[Full Text]; Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text]; U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (1998); Idaho State Police (2000)[Full text].
99 Saleem (1996).
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Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft (1993). A Civil War: A Community Legal Guide to Fighting Street Drug Markets. New York: Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft.
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Campbell Resources Inc. (n.d.). Clandestine Drug Labs: What Every Hotel and Motel Operator Should Know. Portland, Ore.: City of Portland and Campbell Resources Inc.
Copple, J. (2001). "Exploring the Explosive and Addictive World of Meth." Catalyst 21(3):1-4.
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Doane, G., and D. Marshall (1998). "Responding to the Methamphetamine Problem." Police Chief 65(2):36, 38-40.
(1996). "Methamphetamine: A Growing Domestic Threat." Police Chief 63(3):24-28.
Eng, M. (1999). "The Rising Methamphetamine Crisis: An Examination of State Responses." Policy and Practice 2(1):1-12.[Full Text]
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Interagency Working Group on Synthetic Drugs (2005). Interim Report to the Director of National Drug Control Policy, Attorney General, Secretary for Health and Human Services. Washington, D.C.: Office of National Drug Control Policy.
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Irvine, G., and L. Chin (1997). The Environmental Impact and Adverse Health Effects of the Clandestine Manufacture of Methamphetamine. Substance Use & Misuse 32(12,13):1811-1816.
Jenkins, P. (1999). Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic Politics of Designer Drugs. New York: New York University Press.
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(2000). "Statement by George Cazenavette, III Before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime." Feb. 25. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.[Full text]
(1996). Methamphetamine Situation in the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
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(1998). The National Methamphetamine Drug Conference Proceedings. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.
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(1998). Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. Methamphetamine: A New Deadly Neighbor: Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. 105th Cong., 2nd sess. April 6.
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Vandeveld, N. (2004). Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs in Wisconsin. Journal of Environmental Health 66(7):46-51.
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The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.
Casper Community Meth Watch Committee, Casper Police Department (WY, US), 2006
Central Casper Weed and Seed Program, Casper Police Department (WY, US), 2011
Hotel-Motel Interdiction Program, Colorado Springs Police Department (CO, US), 1999
Mackinaw River Bridge POP Project, Illinois State Police (IL, US), 2003
Methamphetamine Initiative, Salt Lake City Police Department (UT, US), 2003
Methcathinone, Indiana State Police (IN, US), 1997
Meth Reduction Initiative, Mobile County Sherriff's Office (AL, US), 2011
Narcotic Detection/Criminal Apprehension Through Enforcement and Education, Twin Falls Police Department (ID, US), 1999
Operation Don't Meth Around, Broken Arrow Police Department (OK, US), 2002
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