Methamphetamine has been used in our society for years. It was used by fighter pilots during WWII. It is used today to treat adults and children suffering from attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD). It first debuted in 1893 and is still running just as strong today. Methamphetamine has a high rate of addiction for first time users and usually requires an 18 month in house treatment program to successfully rid them of this horrible addiction.
During the course of my employment as a police officer I've had the opportunity to investigate numerous cases involving the selling and manufacturing of methamphetamine. I've been certified for years now to work and act as a site safety officer during methamphetamine clandestine lab investigations. The type of clandestine labs you'll come across largely depends on where in the country you're working.
Most labs found in the west are primarily red phosphorous (Red-P) labs. In the Midwest to the Appalachian you'll find anhydrous ammonia labs. This is attributed to the availability of anhydrous due to the abundant farm lands. Again, based upon my experience and with my federal and local contacts on the east coast, methamphetamine has never really caught on. During my career in Washington, DC I had only seen it once. It's there, just not as prevalent in the other parts of the country.
Some of the reason for the clandestine lab increases may be attributed to the old biker gangs being released from federal prison. The economy is another factor. The internet has given people the recipes. There are so many reasons for the increase. There are two states, Oregon and Mississippi, that currently require a prescription for the precursor needed, pseudoephedrine. Depending on which state you reside in the seizure of clandestine labs has exploded. Some states are seeing a 100% increase over the year before.
There are some states that use a monitoring program for the purchase of pseudoephedrine. Those programs come with faults. Prior to the institution of the electronic reporting programs we would sift through pages and pages of logs of people purchasing pseudoephedrine. With that hands on approach it took a lot more work but we were able to look at trends, people and patterns. Today's programs now place limits on the purchase of pseudoephedrine. These programs won't tell you if someone is just at the threshold. These programs won't allow the suspects to purchase over the limit. Therefore these programs strip law enforcement of useful information and have allowed manufacturers to go virtually unnoticed.
There are also new methods being used in the manufacturing process. As law enforcement becomes aware of a new trend, another one is made. There is nothing more important than knowing the type of clandestine lab you're working. All the chemicals involved in the process are dangerous. Let's discuss a few clandestine lab types.
Most dumpsites are just that - a dump. I've worked dumpsites that were years old and some that were hours old. They both have something in common: a suspect and danger. I've been successful in retrieving finger prints from jars. If possible and the clandestine lab isn't that old or openly exposed to the elements, finger prints and photos should be a high priority on your list.
This is a crop fertilizer that brings several dangers with it. Anhydrous ammonia boils at -33 below zero. Anhydrous (meaning without water) has a the ability to affect any exposed part of your body. Anytime you're dealing with anhydrous you need to be on a self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). During my clandestine lab investigations I always made sure to notify the emergency room and our local fire department. When dealing with anhydrous, if there is a rupture of the carrying vessel, the fire department can use water to lower the vapor to the ground. That is why it is important to wear SCBA and not just a plain respirator. I would suggest that you get with your local fire department for a consistent response. I found our fire department very helpful and willing to be a part of the team. With this type of clandestine lab you'll see lithium and if exposed to the air or water it will ignite and potentially cause a fire which could ignite the other chemicals present. Again, high priority needs to be given to minimizing the potential of an explosion.
This is more commonly known as a Red-P lab. Although rare where I live, we've had a few. This particular lab will give you some clues as to what you have. If you walk into one of these clandestine labs you may see the chemistry lab set: triple neck flasks, beakers and the like. You may also see boxes of match books. With this clandestine lab it is important that you recognize the dangers. If you turn the power off to any reaction vessel you have the potential to turn the red phosphorous into white phosphorous which becomes highly explosive. There is also a by-product gas that can cause death almost instantly called phosphine. If you're working one of these labs it's important to be in on SCBA. During a Red-P clandestine lab I worked several years ago I was able to take a small portion of the air filter in the furnace and send that to our state lab for analysis. The filter portion came back with a positive for methamphetamine, marijuana and nicotine. This was more important due to the fact the suspects' kids were present and we were making a case for social services.
Regardless of which type of lab you are working, officers and detectives need to take all measures in protecting themselves. We often concern ourselves with others' safety and not our own. It's important to have a decontamination process in place for you, suspects and children. It's also a great idea to get with your local first responders and develop response plans.