Meth Labs Essay, Research Paper
Methamphetamines are powerfully addictive stimulants that dramatically affect the central nervous system. The drugs are made easily in clandestine, or illegal laboratories with cheap over the counter ingredients. These factors combine to make methamphetamines drugs extremely dangerous, and vulnerable to widespread use.
Methamphetamines are also commonly known as speed, meth, or chalk. In its? smoked form they are often referred to as ice, crystal, crank, or glass. They are a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. Methamphetamine’s chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, but it has more pronounced effects on the central nervous system. Like amphetamines, they causes increased activity, decreased appetite, and a general sense of well being, which can last 6 to 8 hours. After the initial rush, there is typically a state of high agitation that in some individuals can lead to violent behavior.
Contrary to the stereotype of rural areas as idyllic, protected environments in which to raise families, substance abuse is as great a problem as it is in the cities. One must realize that rural communities vary in characteristics considerably, which complicates our understanding of rural substance use problems and increases the need for prevention, intervention, and treatment programs. For too long, the problems of alcohol and drug abuse in rural areas have received little attention from the federal level. As national studies show, those who live in rural areas are just as likely to have alcohol and other drug problems as those who live in large and small cities. The choice of addictive substances may differ, but the prevalence of abuse is virtually the same for country and city dweller alike.
Less attention has been focused on drug use in rural than urban areas despite evidence that metro and nonmetro differences in rates of substance abuse have been declining. Between 1975 and 1991, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) collected drug, alcohol, and tobacco use data from individuals age 12 and older living in U.S. households. These data are used to report trends in illegal drug use for large and small metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas of the United States. Lifetime-use patterns of marijuana, hallucinogens, inhalants, and cocaine by age group for the three population density areas are compared. In general, nonmetropolitan prevalence rates for the four drugs were slightly lower than those for the two metropolitan population density areas, however, the rates appear to be converging. Lifetime substance use was highest for those age 18 to 34. (Moxley,1992 p.119)
A clandestine laboratory is a laboratory used for the primary purpose of illegally manufacturing controlled substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Clandestine labs are typically small, utilizing common household appliances, glassware, and readily available chemicals. (KBI, 1997, p.1-2) Clandestine laboratories come in all sizes and are found in a variety of locations. The most common and the fastest growing type of lab is the methamphetamine lab, or crank lab. Methamphetamine laboratories have been seized in homes in residential areas, vehicles, apartments, hotels, kitchens, bathrooms, garages and various other outbuildings. (University of Kansas, 1995, p. 6)
There are many different methods for producing Methamphetamines. Each method has its own inherent dangers. Many of the chemicals used are corrosive or
destructive, and some of the processes create noxious and harmful fumes. Additionally, many of the chemicals can be found in common household items such as Coleman fuel, some cleaners, and diet pills.
The most productive laboratories are commonly located in rural areas, such as farms, rural residences and forestry land. Rural areas are often targeted for laboratory manufacturing to avoid detection by law enforcement. Often these labs are larger and produce strong chemical odors, which could be easily detected by neighbors. (Weisheit, Wells, 1996, p.384)
Clandestine laboratories are commonly operated on an irregular basis. Operators often produce a batch, or conduct one step in the process, then disassemble and store the lab, or move the lab to another location to complete the process. This is often done in order to avoid detection by law enforcement. (KBI, 1997, p.2)
Methamphetamine labs are increasingly becoming a public safety hazard. Even months after a lab has been closed, chemical residue that has seeped into carpet or wood can be dangerous. (Gallon, 1998, p.48) Police and Firefighters must take special safety courses to handle meth situations because of the likelihood of explosions, invisible poison gases and other dangers. People who come into contact with the highly toxic chemicals that are used to make the drug can become sick and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer.
The majority of methamphetamine labs are of the smaller type where the operators are use canning jars or other glass dishes. These labs are extremely dangerous for several reasons.
These lab operators are not using the proper type of glassware that would prevent explosion or exposure to deadly gases released from the cook, and these operators are commonly users of crank and are under the influence while operating the lab. (http://www.sema.state.mo.us/metham.htm)
Methamphetamine does more than boost the crime rate; it creates drug addicts and turns normal lives into nightmares. It?s manufacturing process presents an immediate environmental hazard. The cost of cleaning up these sites can be enormous. (Kaufman, 1998, p. 89)
Not only are methamphetamine laboratories used to manufacture illegal, often deadly drugs, but the illegal and dangerous nature of production, has resulted in explosions, fires, toxic fumes, and irreparable damage to human health and to the environment. Every year, fires or explosions occur at a number of clandestine laboratory sites, which lead to their discovery.
Hazardous chemical wastes, which are the by-products of the illegal drug manufacturing process, are more times than not disposed of using unsafe and illegal methods. Operators dump them on the ground in streams and lakes, local sewage systems or septic tanks, or bury them. Law enforcement personnel engaged in clandestine drug laboratory seizure and recognition require specialized training in the investigation of such facilities, including training in appropriate health and safety procedures and in the use of personal protective equipment. (University of Kansas, 1995, p11) Cleaning up a seized clandestine drug laboratory site is a complex, dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming undertaking. The amount of waste material from a clandestine laboratory may vary from a few pounds to several tons depending on the size of the laboratory and its manufacturing capabilities. (KBI, 1997, p.22)
When a methamphetamine laboratory is seized, hazardous waste materials, such as chemicals and contaminated glassware and equipment, must be disposed of properly. Many of these materials are reactive, explosive, flammable, corrosive, and toxic. The danger is compounded by the fact that many federal, state, and local law enforcement officers lack adequate training in clandestine laboratory safety procedures and regulations, hazards, and other related health and safety issues. (University of Kansas, 1995, p.2)
Although the quantities of hazardous materials found at a typical methamphetamine laboratory are relatively small when compared to waste generated from a major industry, the substances to which law enforcement personnel and others may be exposed present very real public health concerns. (Lannone, 1998, p.36) Methamphetamine laboratories present both acute and chronic health risks to individuals involved in the seizure and cleanup of the facility, to those who live and work nearby, and to the violator operating the facility. The problems are further complicated when the chemicals are stored at off-site locations such as rental lockers. The lack of proper ventilation and temperature controls at these off-site locations adds to the potential for fire, explosion, and exposure to humans.
Methamphetamine laboratories may contaminate water sources and soil. In some cases, contamination may spread off site. Careless or intentional dumping by the laboratory operator is one source of contamination. Spilling chemicals on the floor or dumping waste into bathtubs, sinks, toilets, or on the grounds surrounding the laboratories, and along roads and creeks are common practices. Surface and groundwater drinking supplies could be contaminated, potentially affecting large numbers of people. (http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/meth/production.htm)
Perhaps the greatest risk of long-term exposure is assumed by unsuspecting inhabitants of buildings formerly used by clandestine drug laboratory operators where residual contamination may exist inside and outside the structure. “These hazardous chemical substances pose the most significant threats to the law enforcement officials and other first responders (fire and health department personnel) that initially secure the site. Threats to the surrounding human population and environment also exist, making these clandestine drug labs a significant threat until the hazardous materials can be analyzed, properly categorized, managed and then properly disposed.” (Collins)
Today’s meth labs can be compared with the illegal moonshine stills of earlier days. The drugs can be made with a skillet and stove, in a bathtub, or even the trunk of a car and the recipe can be found on the Internet.
Why is it so popular? There are several reasons. For the maker and seller, a $1,000 investment can make a $20,000 profit. For the buyer, it’s the cheap man’s high. A $100 buy of cocaine can give a user a 20-minute high. The same amount of meth can keep a user high for a day or two. In other words, more bang for the buck. (KBI, 1997, p. 6)
Clandestine lab elimination is not just a law enforcement responsibility; it is also a public health and environmental problem. The governing body must bring all of the appropriate players into action. The responders must know their roles and responsibilities when they take down a laboratory.
First, funding must be increased. Cleanups of labs are extremely resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most jurisdictions. Consequently, if we divert resources from other drug problems to clandestine laboratory enforcement and cleanups, other drug problems will increase. (Moxley, 1992, p. 136)
Second, federal leadership must coordinate and set a training standard. Equipment and intelligence programs also must be developed. Agencies need to conduct more baseline research and develop plans that show the resources and coordination required for a successful cleanup.
Finally, there is a need for training for personal protection. Responders need to know what methamphetamine is and how it is made. They must know typical locations and the look and smell of clandestine labs. This awareness training is needed especially in rural jurisdictions, as these areas are preferred by lab operators, they are not easily observed and can work anonymously.
Methamphetamine has been called the “crack of the 1990s,” with methamphetamine-related emergency room admissions and deaths skyrocketing in the United States, particularly in the West. Rural areas have been hit particularly hard. In some regions, hospitals have seen as much as 1,000% and 2,000% increases in admissions from the drug in the last 10 years. (Weisheit, Wells, 1996, p.396)
Law enforcement and substance abuse centers in Kansas have observed an increase in the prevalence of methamphetamine. The Kansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services reported an increase of 359% in methamphetamine primary problem admissions from Fiscal Year 1994 to Fiscal Year 1997. The Kansas Highway Patrol reported Interdiction Unit seizures for methamphetamine increasing from 1994 to 1997. Clandestine laboratory seizures reported to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Agency in Kansas have also increased over the same period. Methamphetamine accounts for up to 90 percent of all drug cases in many Midwest communities. (http://www.kbi.org)
What is being done by officials to curb this ever-present problem? Recent initiatives by local, state, and federal leaders have been brought up to eliminate this problem. One such program is the Life or Meth Campaign. This campaign includes TV public service announcements, anti-methamphetamine posters, media kits, school counselor kits, chambers of commerce kits, and teen editor press kits.
Another step taken to help control the problem is the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996. Because there are no quantity limitations or uniform reporting requirements for iodine and red phosphorous, the chemicals needed to manufacture methamphetamines, law enforcement’s ability to trace these chemicals is severely handicapped. The Control Act of 1996 establishes new controls over key chemicals and strengthens criminal penalties for possession and distribution of these chemicals. (http://www.senate.gov/~feinstein/meth1.html)
As rural communities struggle just to survive, they also must struggle to win back their communities and eliminate the imposing drug problem. Without proper funding, training, and support from each level of government the production, trafficking, and use of illegal substances will almost surely increase. Methamphetamine production creates a unique and deadly combination to unsuspecting rural communities. Only through educating, support, and dedication, will this problem be controlled.