By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
WILLIAMSON - Ease of manufacture, availability and economy affects the marketplace for any product. Those factors are at the heart of the boom in methamphetamine in Mingo and Pike Counties.
Tim White, Regional Prevention Coordinator for the rehabilitation facility the Prestera Center, spoke to first responders and others about the explosion of meth, how to identify it and how to deal with those using the drug.
“There is more potential for harm with meth,” White said. “Not only the person using it, but the site where it is manufactured can be dangerous for EMS workers, Child Protective Services, police and other personnel.”
White said meth use in West Virginia is above the natural average. There were 30 overdose deaths from the drug between 2006 and 2010 in the state.
Law enforcement busted 50 meth labs in West Virginia in 2008. By 2011, that number had climbed to 171.
Methamphetamine is a powerful, addictive stimulant, White explained. It is often referred to as crank, ice, glass or speed, depending on the purity of the crystals.
“The potential for meth use is high,” White said. “It is easy to find, causes extremely pleasurable effects that disappear in minutes. It is highly addictive, there is no such thing as recreational use. Meth can be eaten, snorted, smoked or injected, and is relatively cheap, $48 for ten ‘hits’ That is much cheaper than oxycontins.”
The effects of meth use include insomnia, memory loss, depression, violence, psychotic behavior, convulsions, irregular heartbeat, hair loss, rotten teeth and a strong body odor.
The main ingredient in meth is made using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which are found in cold and allergy medicines. Other chemicals used in the process of “cooking” meth include lithium, found in batteries, ammonia, brake cleaner, paint thinner, gasoline, lye, sulfuric acid or drain cleaner and red phosphorus which is found in matches and fireworks.
“These are products you could find anywhere,” White said. “You would find these on any farm.”
There are two methods of making or cooking meth, one is the red phosphorus method which uses heat, the other is the anhydrous ammonia method, called “shake and bake.”
One of the inherent dangers in the manufacture of meth is the portability of a lab to cook the drug. Clandestine labs care often found in motel rooms or rental properties, cars or even backpacks.
A meth lab was recently dismantled that was discovered in a pick-up truck in the parking lot of the local Walmart.
Because the manufacturers of meth have no chemical background the danger of explosions and fires is always present, White said. “Cookers” attempt to conceal the process by enclosing the lab area; chemical buildup can become so flammable even the charge from a light switch can cause an explosion.
In addition is the residual damage and cost of cooking meth.
For each pound of meth produced, six pounds of waste are produced. Leftover chemicals are poured into drains and onto the ground, contaminating the area for years.
White said cleaning a meth lab takes 100 man hours, and thousands of dollars.
White said the dangers of meth cooking and dealing with users of meth make it important to always be aware of the signs of the drug.
“Police officers have busted people for cooking meth after making a traffic stop, simply because of the ammonia smell coming from the car,” White said. “So we need to be aware of these things. Don’t smell, move examine or bury anything you see.”
In addition to an ammonia odor, other indicators of meth production include windows that are blacked out, renters paying in cash and high traffic, especially at night.
White said large amounts of trash were also a sign of a lab, as well as empty containers for brake fluid, antifreeze, drain cleaner and fertilizer.
It order to avoid forfeiture of property in the event of a drug arrest, White said many times meth users will use rental property, or even a motel room.
“When you get a room, look for yellowish stains in the bathtub and carpet,” White advised. “And never ever use the coffee pot in the room, it is often used to cook meth.”
“If you see signs of a meth lab, do NOT try to deal with it or talk to these people,” White advised. “Call 911, meth dealers are extremely paranoid and often violent.”
If you see suspicious behavior or activity, call the WV State Police at 304 235-6000, Mingo County Sheriff’s Department at 304 235-0300 or 911.