In April, the Public Health Department in Island County, Washington, used a new type of scanner to search for methamphetamine contamination in buildings, trailers, used cars on a sales lot, and at a children's dance studio. They...

     According to information provided on the Decatur Web site, the device has undergone extensive in-house tests at CDEX to validate its accuracy and efficacy as a meth detector for virtually any quantity, form or concentration of the drug. In tests conducted on evidence samples from 54 active or adjudicated court cases involving street meth, the scanner successfully identified all samples correctly.

     In other in-house tests, researchers looked at the scanner's effectiveness in detecting methamphetamine at various levels of adulteration when cut by common adulterants, including MSM, flour, salt, sugar and baking soda. The tests used pure, pharmaceutical grade methamphetamine, and all adulterants were weighed, combined in dry form, and mixed thoroughly using a mortar and pestle. The samples were prepared with 100 mg of meth. Adulterants were added to achieve concentrations from 10 to 90 percent. Each sample was then scanned twice using two different ID2 Meth Scanners. In each case, the scanners correctly detected the presence of methamphetamine.

Speed demons

     Law enforcement can use all the help it can get to combat methamphetamine abuse. Everything about the drug is unique. Unlike imported drugs like heroin and cocaine, meth is easy to produce from common household chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide (lye), Vicks brand nasal inhalers and decongestants. Recipes are abundant on the Internet.

     Some ingredients, such as anhydrous ammonia, and ephedrine and pseudoephedrine decongestants, are now restricted to limit over-the-counter availability. Retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, CVS and Winn-Dixie have installed corporate policies restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing products by limiting purchase quantities and requiring a minimum age with proper identification.

     While these restrictions on the sale of precursor chemicals have been marginally successful in decreasing domestic production of methamphetamine, foreign drug traffickers have taken up the slack by quickly expanding their distribution networks. As a result, methamphetamine smuggling through the U.S.-Mexican border has increased.

     Data from the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center show Southwest border methamphetamine seizures increased from 807 kg in 1998 to 1,223 kg in 2002.

     Border smuggling could get worse. The San Diego Union-Tribune, a daily newspaper in California, reported in July 2007 that Chinese and U.S. authorities were investigating a breakdown in port security that allowed an illegal shipment of more than 19 tons of a chemical intended for methamphetamine cartels to reach Mexico. The load slipped through the Port of Long Beach, California, undetected.

     Methamphetamine detection technologies have been in short supply. The ID2 Meth Scanner is the first handheld device available to law enforcement.

     Two other technologies — Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and Physical Gas Sampling (PSG) — can be used to locate illegal meth labs, but both are designed more for long-range use, and are far larger and more expensive than the ID2 model.

     FTIR technology was used in Operation Desert Storm by the military to identify ambient background chemicals, as well as to characterize particular smoke or steam plumes of interest. In 1995, the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center's Western Region demonstrated the potential for FTIR to support law enforcement searching for high-volume clandestine meth labs. During the test, FTIR monitoring equipment was able to detect component meth compounds from a distance even though the plume was invisible and the detector was not located inside the plume itself.

     PSG technology can likewise be used for remote detection of the effluent by-products of methamphetamine production. North American Technical Services markets a hazmat solution in the form of 15-pound suitcase-sized air sampler that uses gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to detect traces of more than 100 chemical warfare agents, as well as toxic industrial and meth lab chemicals. The system has the ability to detect and analyze samples in the field, eliminating problems inherent in specimen collection, shipping, storage and processing unknown chemicals.

     Neither FTIR nor PSG technologies provide quite the portability and flexibility of the ID2.

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