The mention of methamphetamine labs may conjure up images of tarp-covered holes in rural areas full of jars, tubes and noxious fumes or burned-out buildings where the toxic concoction caught fire. Now, however, meth is going mobile.
Sometimes referred to as ‘shake-and-bake’ meth, the new mobile process for manufacturing the stimulant requires far fewer controlled pseudoephedrine pills than traditional labs.
Individual packages of pseudoephedrine pills can be purchased without arousing suspicion, and the medication is added to a soft-drink bottle with other active ingredients.
Meth makers then shake the bottle to encourage the chemical reaction, and heat from the process ‘cooks’ the methamphetamine out of the resulting sludge. The process is extremely volatile, as heat and pressure build up inside the bottle if it is not vented slowly during the process. If oxygen gets inside the bottle it can react with the chemical process and “compromise the container” to the harm of the meth maker, said Cory Rose, Investigator with the Boone Police.
Mobile meth production is easier to conceal from the public, as it does not require the open flames or large containers of traditional meth labs. Smaller amounts of the chemicals are also used, raising less suspicion when purchased. According to an article from the Associated Press, the ingredients and containers for the process can all be stored in a backpack.
With less required equipment and more mobility, more people may be manufacturing meth in shake-and- bake labs in the future.
It’s easier to do, so unfortunately more people are able to do it because of the ease of the process, which is a real concern for us, William Skare, Chief of the Boone Police Department, said.
Rose said more people in total seem to be creating meth with the availability of the shake-and-bake labs, though exact numbers are not available. The smaller-scale method produces smaller amounts of meth, mostly for personal use, but the process still creates a surplus that can be sold.
It is not reducing the number of people selling drugs, Skare said.
The bottles from the manufacturing process are often discarded, leaving behind the toxic residue. Shake and bake labs are rising in popularity partly due to the decreased availability of anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural chemical key to the manufacture of traditional meth, Rose said.
Shake and bake labs often use fertilizer spikes in lieu of anhydrous, and Boone County Sherrif Ron Fehr said the spikes are so central to the process they may be made illegal to possess for any purpose other than their intended use.
They [shake and bake labs] seem to be on the rise here, Rose said, and the Boone Police have been seeing the labs in the community for the past year.
The police have cleaned up or investigated about twenty meth clean-up sites or actual labs (not all of them shake-and-bake labs) in the past year county-wide.
That’s up from years past. It’s been a few years since we’ve had a run on labs like that, Rose said.
Shake-and-bake labs have been on the rise in other areas of the country for the past year. A news story (“Shake-and-bake’ meth new to area) from the Abilene Reporter-News in Texas indicated that shake and bake labs began appearing in the area last summer.
A great reduction in meth lab reports followed the Methamphetamine Reduction Act of 2005, with data from the U.S. Justice Department indicating a record number of meth busts in 2003 with 17,356 lab incidents to a low in 2007 of 5,910 incidents (a 66 percent reduction). Incidents are now on the rise, according to the same federal data.
Fehr said his deputies have encountered shake-and- bake labs, though the process is relatively new to the county.
It’s a new thing that we’re seeing, but my officers have come across it, especially the guys involved in the drug side. They’re coming across it, and you see some of the stuff that’s thrown out on the roadside after they’re done doing it. So we do have some experience in cleaning these up and arresting people who have used it, said Fehr.
Deputies have mostly encountered the waste from the process, discovering plastic bottles or chemical sludge left behind. The number of traditional labs discovered in Boone County is on the decline due to new difficulties in manufacturing traditional methamphetamine, but shake -and-bake labs are on the rise.
We have seen an increase again, back to the meth problem, Fehr said. A few years back we were probably cleaning up 20 to 40 labs a month. We’re nowhere near that at this point. Lab cleanup is now is probably four or five a year, but those are starting to increase so those numbers are probably going to be higher after this year.
Significant data on the number of shake-and-bake labs is not yet available, Fehr said, but shake-and-bake labs may contribute to a resurgence in meth use.
Skare encouraged citizens never to endanger themselves by handling plastic bottles or residue that may be a used meth lab. He encouraged citizens to report such materials to the police and to be on the lookout for houses where many individuals visit for very short periods of time or other suspicious activity occurs.
Such houses may be central points for drug sales and may be reported to the police. The smell of ether may be an indication of a meth lab nearby. Boone Police and the Boone Sheriff’s Department will be introducing a new anonymous tip line soon to allow citizens to send text-message tips about drugs and other crime to law enforcement.
Saturday, July 24, 2010