Law enforcers, lawmakers get schooled on meth At a Virginia training facility for the Drug Enforcement Administration, police – and sometimes members of Congress – learn about raiding meth labs.
LES BLUMENTHAL; The News Tribune
Published: February 19th, 2007 01:00 AM
QUANTICO, Va. – A certain adrenaline rush comes with busting a meth lab, even if the gun in your hand is loaded with paint-ball bullets. Even if the bad guys are cardboard cutouts and the lab is a Quonset hut at a Drug Enforcement Administration training facility.
But the helmet is real. The Kevlar vest can withstand bullets fired from most handguns. The gas mask makes a Darth Vader-like metallic click with each breath.
The instructor knocks on the front door, shouting, “DEA! Police! We have a search warrant!”
The next thing you know you’re inside, clearing rooms like a SWAT team on “COPS,” firing only at targets with odd numbers. The even-numbered targets could be the good guys, even children. Everyone shoots at the dog. It’s covered with paint-ball splatters.
Over the past 20 years, more than 12,000 mostly state and local law enforcement officers have taken the weeklong DEA course on raiding and securing a methamphetamine lab.
Though the number of meth lab busts has declined dramatically over the past several years, it remains one of the most dangerous tasks in law enforcement.
Suspects act like someone out of the movie “Night of the Living Dead.” Labs are sometimes booby-trapped. The chemicals used to cook the meth are explosive, flammable and so toxic they can blister flesh and damage internal organs.
“It’s rough stuff,” said John Donnelly, a lead instructor at the DEA training facility on the sprawling Marine base at Quantico. Donnelly got his start in the late 1980s busting meth labs in California’s Central Valley.
Even though he’s raided meth labs more than 100 times, he said there was nothing routine about it.
“Your heart races at the critical time,” he said.
They call them “Beavis and Butt-Head” labs, the small labs where meth addicts produce less than an ounce or so of the chemical cocktail for themselves and their friends.
Mexico’s growing role
Most of the “super” labs, which can produce 10 pounds or more in a single batch, are now in Mexico. Mexican gangs increasingly use their cocaine-, heroin- and marijuana-distribution networks to transport meth to the United States.
The number of clandestine meth-lab incidents nationwide has dropped about 50 percent in the past year, from almost 12,500 in 2005 to 6,400 in 2006, according to the DEA.
An incident can involve a bust, the discovery of a disposal site for the chemicals or the seizure of chemicals or other lab paraphernalia.
“The meth lab numbers still aren’t zero,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, the co-chairman of the House meth caucus, who spent a day recently at the DEA training facility. “And there has been no drop in the use of meth.”
Since 2004, Washington and 43 other states have restricted over-the-counter sales of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products, which provide the basic ingredient in methamphetamine.
While that’s led to the significant drop in meth lab busts, almost 40 percent of local law-enforcement officials across the country still consider meth the greatest drug threat in their areas.
On the West Coast, where meth got its start, police are even more concerned.
More than 92 percent of local law- enforcement officials in the Pacific region consider meth their No. 1 drug threat, more than any region in the country.
For years, meth was thought of mostly as a problem in Washington, Oregon, California and the Southwest. The trade was initially dominated by motorcycle gangs, but Mexican gangs eventually took over. “They pretty much rode the bikers out of town,” Donnelly said.
Now the meth epidemic has spread through the Midwest, with such states as Missouri, Illinois and Indiana reporting more meth lab incidents in 2006 than West Coast states.
“It’s a major problem in communities across the country,” said Rusty Payne, a DEA spokesman.
Meth is considered the most addictive illicit drug available. Usage can lead to anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, violent mood swings and an intense craving for the drug.
While there are recovering cocaine and heroin addicts, a meth addiction is almost impossible to kick, Donnelly said. The toll on families and communities can be devastating.
So many products to police
With ephedrine providing the kick, meth can be manufactured in clandestine labs using red phosphorus scraped off matchbooks or from highway flares and anhydrous ammonia stolen from ice rinks, where it’s used as a refrigerant, or from farms.
Other ingredients, such as ether, chloride gas, iodine, lye and hydrogen peroxide, can be found in household products. Every pound of meth manufactured produces 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste.
“They throw it in the burn barrel, toss it on the side of the road or let the garbage man take it away,” Donnelly said.
Larsen said the House meth caucus’s priorities included prevention, treatment and education about the drug; establishing international controls over the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, most of which are produced in India; and ensuring adequate funding for police.
But on the day he toured the DEA training facility, the politics of meth on Capitol Hill were left behind and the dangers of busting a meth lab sank in.
Larsen swung a battering ram to knock down a door, inched through a room so full of smoke you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face and raided a meth lab armed with a paint-ball gun.
“I wear one uniform: It’s a suit and a tie,” Larsen said. “Police wear a different one, and you never know how they feel until you at least try and step into their shoes.”
Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008
Well at least Larsen, a democrat, when not busting down doors with a battering ram, does support treatment but wants to increase funding to the police. That's right - pass more drug laws, hire more cops, build more prisons which does not work. This is what he said Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, the co-chairman of the House meth caucus, who spent a day recently at the DEA training facility. “And there has been no drop in the use of meth.” So if there has been no drop in meth use, why continue the same policies followed over the last 40 years. He admits that laws, more cops and more prisons are not working. Then why throw more money at a failed policy. Try another approach, spend money on finding that silver bullet that will cure addictions, this would be more effective way to spend our tax dollars. Treatment does not get much funding from Congress, instead the money is spent on enforcement. That shows a lack of compassion on part of the politicians, whose laws have resulted in the USA to have 5x the number of prisoners in jail than China. Remember China also has over a billion people. 25% of all people incarcerated in this world are in US prisons. Talk about human rights violations. Then the USA ships out tobacco all over this world, the most addictive drug known to kill millions of people every year, while demanding other countries not to produce and US citizens not to use recreational drugs because they are addictive. swim don't get this double talk. If the USA wants to ban all addictive drugs, why not start with the biggest killer tobacco which kills 400,000 Americans every year and stop exporting it and getting the rest of the world hooked. Walk the talk.