Home meth labs on the rise

Posted: 11th June 2012 by Doc in Uncategorized
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AUGUSTA — The national problem of home drug labs, mostly making methamphetamine, is growing in Maine and its cost is hitting law enforcement at all levels of government and the state Department of Environmental Protection.



Nov. 1 Madison Somerset Methamphetamine
Nov. 7 Skowhegan Somerset Methamphetamine
Nov. 23 Presque Isle Aroostook Methamphetamine
Dec. 29 Presque Isle Aroostook Methamphetamine
Dec. 30 Rockland Knox Dimethyltryptamine
Jan. 14 Lebanon York Methamphetamine
Feb. 1 Easton Aroostook Methamphetamine
Feb. 8 Kingfield Franklin Methamphetamine
Feb. 13 Presque Isle Aroostook Methamphetamine
April 16 Van Buren Aroostook Methamphetamine
April 18 Presque Isle Aroostook Methamphetamine
April 26 Augusta Kennebec Methamphetamine
May 11 Connor Aroostook Methamphetamine
May 25 Standish Cumberland Methamphetamine

Source: Maine DEA

“It is very much a concern,” said Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. “This has been a big problem in other areas of the country and we have seen a significant increase in Maine over the last several months.”

In budget year 2011, MDEA had six calls to deal with meth labs in the state. Since November, the agency has tallied 14 drug labs, with all but one producing methamphetamine. One lab was making a synthetic version of the powerful psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine.

“These homemade labs are very dangerous,” McKinney said. “They use chemicals that when mixed together can cause toxic gas and the process creates heat that can cause fire and explosions.”

He said there have been several instances where the container used to mix the chemicals, often a 2-liter soda bottle, develops a hole from the heat of the chemical reaction and causes a fire.

“We had one where it looked like a flame-thrower with flames shooting out the side of it,” McKinney said. “These are dangerous situations.”

According to MDEA data, a methamphetamine-producing operation was discovered by state drug agents April 26 in Augusta.

Deputy Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police Department said it has been several years since his department has come across a full-fledged meth lab. The recent case cited by the MDEA, he said, involved “an individual who had some of the ingredients but not a full working lab,” Mills said.

Kennebec County Sheriff Liberty said his office has yet to deal with a meth lab, but he has heard of their damaging impact from counterparts in the western and southern regions of the country. Liberty said the arrival of labs in Maine were slowed by lawmakers’ decision to force pharmacies keep many products containing ephedrine behind the counter.

“I think that’s been key to the success,” Liberty said. “It’s been very isolated in this area.”

McKinney said the MDEA has developed an online training program to help local law enforcement recognize potential labs. He said agents are immediately sent when a call comes from local police that they have a possible lab.

“We have trained agents to identify the chemicals and the equipment that might be used,” McKinney said.

He said responding to a report of a drug lab has become one of the highest priorities for his agency because of the danger posed to the general public by the labs. He said a big concern is the cost of responding to a possible lab.

“We had one on a weekend and everybody was on overtime,” McKinney said. “We were using a federal grant to pay for dealing with labs, but that grant ran out on Christmas Day and we are scrambling to find ways to pay for these now.”

Public Safety Commissioner John Morris warned lawmakers earlier this year of the growing bills for meth lab investigations. He said the costs are significant and growing.

“Every time we break a meth lab it costs $15,000, because of the care we have to take and the hazmat that we have to send in,” he said.

He said the chemicals used to make meth and other designer drugs are dangerous, some toxic and others explosive. Morris said it is a growing cost as drug labs have been raided across the state and he said the costs to the state do not include the expenses for local police and other first responders.

McKinney said the MDEA often has a fire department standing by on a raid because “there is a real danger from even these simple labs we have found so far.”

Barbara Parker, director of response services at the Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency is also facing increased costs to respond to a meth or other drug labs. She said her hazmat teams are trained to deal with a wide range of toxic and dangerous chemicals, including those used to make illegal drugs.

“Our biggest cost is manpower,” she said. “We send at least two people to every one of these and it can take a long time to assess the situation and clean up the lab site so the police can do their job.”

Parker said there is also a cost for such items as oxygen bottles and disposable suits that vary based on the incident. She said it can cost just a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars for the DEP to do its job at a drug lab site.

“We have been lucky that all of these labs have been small,” she said. “In Washington state, they had a railroad car buried in the ground that was being used as a big lab.”

Parker is also concerned at the increasing number of labs and the costs to her division. The response services are funded by a dedicated tax on those Maine companies that produce hazardous materials and she said responding to meth labs set up by criminals was not a consideration when the fund was set up.






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