Meth labs (Forensic Science)
Methamphetamine (also known as meth, speed, ice, crystal, and crank) is a powerful neurological stimulant that influences heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, appetite, alertness, and mood. Most people who use this drug report immediate feelings of euphoria, increased energy and attentiveness, and decreased appetite and fatigue. Undesirable side effects associated with meth use include diarrhea, nausea, excessive sweating, insomnia, tremors, jaw clenching, panic attacks, increased libido with an inability to reach orgasm or physical release, and compulsion to repeat tasks over and over. Side effects associated with long-term chronic use include physical addiction, noticeable weight loss, rapid tooth decay (meth mouth), brain damage, muscle breakdown, compulsive skin picking, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and headaches.
Methamphetamine use has grown steadily in the United States since the last decade of the twentieth century. In a 2005 survey conducted by the National Association of Counties, 58 percent of U.S. county law-enforcement agencies listed methamphetamine as their number one drug problem. police across the United States have shut down meth labs in rural farm locations, central-city areas, and suburbs. The chief factor in the growing use of methamphetamine may be that new manufacturing methods have made the drug easier to produce, and the chemicals needed are relatively easy to acquire. Detailed instructions on how...
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Manufacturing Meth (Forensic Science)
Underground methamphetamine labs can be divided into two types: super labs and small-scale labs. About 10 percent of meth labs are so-called super labs, capable of producing ten or more pounds of methamphetamine per production cycle. It is estimated that such facilities produce about 80 percent of all methamphetamine. These labs tend to be concentrated in Mexico and Southern California, and many are run by Mexican criminal organizations capable of acquiring ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (regulated substances that are the most important precursor chemicals used in the production of meth) in bulk quantities on the international market. This is because Mexico, unlike the United States, does not effectively control the importation of these chemicals. The major exporters of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are China and India, and most of the ephedrine smuggled into the United States comes through Mexico.
About 90 percent of all meth labs are small-scale operations that produce only one to four ounces of methamphetamine per production cycle. The operators of these labs typically produce only enough meth to meet their personal needs and to finance the purchase of the chemicals needed to cook the next batch. The super labs are thus a far greater concern to law enforcement in terms of controlling the supply of meth, but the small labs pose greater dangers in the forms of explosions, fires, and hazardous wastes.
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Hazards of Meth Production (Forensic Science)
The illicit production of methamphetamine is a very dangerous activity. Explosions and fires are a serious risk, especially if the toxic and combustible chemicals used to produce meth are exposed to too much heat, whether from the cooking process or from open flames. Sparks from electrical switches or equipment-generated friction can set off explosions. Furthermore, some producers of meth rig their labs with booby traps.
Poorly ventilated meth labs are particularly at risk of exploding and creating toxic fumes. The heating of the chemical red phosphorus, an ingredient used in the drug’s production, creates a deadly gas that is used commercially for pest control and fumigation; this gas can kill in low concentrations.
The smoke produced from cooking meth deposits toxic residues on the floors, walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture of whatever structure is being used as a lab. Each pound of manufactured methamphetamine produces about five to six pounds of hazardous waste, and meth producers take no special precautions when disposing of this waste. It is often buried, stored, or burned on or near lab sites, or it may be dumped into streams or rivers or poured down drains. In some areas, the dumping, burning, or burial of such waste can threaten the drinking-water supply and contaminate the septic system. The health risks created by the toxic waste produced by meth labs include dizziness, hypertension, skin...
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Government and Law-Enforcement Responses (Forensic Science)
To reduce the dangers posed by methamphetamine use and production, state and federal governments have passed legislation to control the sale and distribution of at least some of the precursor chemicals used to produce the drug. An effective strategy has been the regulation of sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, especially over-the-counter sales of cold and allergy medications and mail-order and Internet-based sales of these drugs. In most U.S. states, customers must show identification and sign a log when purchasing these regulated products; in some states, these drugs are available only with a doctor’s prescription. This type of regulation requires agencies to cross-reference sales across retail venues to prevent meth lab operators from simply buying their supplies in small amounts from multiple stores (known as smurfing). In addition, it has been suggested that clerks who work at chemical supply companies and pharmacies should be trained to detect and report suspicious purchases of materials commonly used to manufacture methamphetamine and to be wary of customers who exhibit signs of meth addiction (rotting teeth, open sores, and a chemical odor).
Criminal conspiracy cases can be brought against chemical and lab equipment companies that knowingly supply meth drug lab operators, and federal law allows for civil fines up to $250,000 for illegal diversion of chemical or lab equipment for the...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Hannan, Dan. “Meth Labs: Understanding Exposure Hazards and Associated Problems.” Professional Safety 50, no. 6 (2005): 24-31. Discusses the public health exposure hazards and environmental problems associated with methamphetamine drug labs.
_______. “Reacting to Difficult Situations: What to Do Following the Discovery of an Illegal Methamphetamine Drug Lab or a Tragic Death.” Journal of Housing and Community Development 62, no. 4 (2005). Describes how to recognize the signs that a meth lab is operating in a location and addresses appropriate measures for communities to take in response.
Hunt, Dana E. “Methamphetamine Abuse: Challenges for Law Enforcement and Communities.” NIJ Journal 254 (July, 2006): 24-27. Discusses why methamphetamine abuse is such a growing problem and offers suggestions regarding what police and communities should do to combat this threat.
Scott, Michael S., and Kelly Dedel. Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2006. Brief guide intended for law-enforcement agencies provides a general overview of the problem of meth labs and offers practical suggestions for responses.
(The entire section is 165 words.)