Meth lab activity on the rise throughout Michigan
By CRISTINA TRAPANI-SCOTT
CLINTON — Clinton resident David Alfred Gibbs, 53, has been arrested, his methamphetamine-manufacturing lab shut down and charges have been filed, but his is only one of an increasing number of labs that are popping up throughout the state of Michigan.
“Meth incidences for last year were quite a bit above prior years,” said Lt. Tony Saucedo of the Michigan State Police Methamphetamine Investigation Team. “This trend is still holding true for this year.”
His findings are backed by a 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment that shows Michigan among 10 states where lab seizures reported by July 2008 had already outpaced seizures for the entire previous year. Saucedo attributes part of that to an increased awareness of what methamphetamine is. “With law enforcement being more educated on what to look for, we are getting more calls because people recognize it,” he said.
In addition, methamphetamine manufacturers have developed new methods of skirting around the restrictions that had been put in place several years ago on the purchase of such things as over-the-counter cold medications that contain ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, key ingredients used in manufacturing of the drug. “Early on, there was a lot of legislation geared toward making it harder to get the ingredients. Now, labs are smaller than what we’ve typically seen,” he said, adding that the smaller labs require smaller portions of ingredients, which are much easier to come by than the quantities once used by the larger labs. That means manufacturers can purchase fewer quantities of cold medications and not look immediately suspicious.
Saucedo said that pharmacies are required by law to have customers sign a log sheet for the medication, but the lists currently aren’t placed in a computer database to be checked for frequency. He said that a computer system should be in place by the end of the year that would help identify suspiciously high numbers of purchases by individuals.
Methamphetamine manufacturers also have changed their manufacturing methods, said Saucedo. Traditionally, manufacturers used the red phosphorus and iodine reduction of pseudoephedrine method or the anhydrous ammonia method. Now, the smaller manufactures are using what’s being called the “one-pot” method, which makes use of easy to acquire lawn fertilizer or ammonium nitrate, typically found in cold packs. “There is no legislation that regulates that, so it goes back to being even easier to manufacture,” he said.
While the process has changed, the danger remains. “There are the same dangers that there were with the other two cooking methods. Obviously with the increase in labs, the dangers increase. Labs still catch on fire just as often,” said Saucedo.
Reports from the raid on Gibbs’ lab have stated that the manufactured home at Waterwheel Estates where he was living and where he ran his lab will be destroyed, but Saucedo said that’s not always the case with all places that house meth labs.
“What happens in the manufacturing is that there are a lot of toxic fumes and hazardous by products. If it’s in a residence, a vehicle or a hotel, those toxic fumes and hazardous wastes seep into the carpet and drywall,” he said. The methamphetamine investigative officers don’t clean the lab. They notify the local health department when the investigation is completed. The health department contacts the owner of the property to inform them of the course of action that must be taken to properly test and clean the premise before it can be lived in again. All of it is costly.
Methamphetamine is considered a highly addictive, schedule II stimulant. White and odorless, the drug is typically taken orally, intranasally, by needle injection or by smoking and causes the release of high levels of dopamine in the brain. Chronic abuse can drastically change how the brain functions.
Saucedo said that if someone suspects there is meth-manufacturing activity in their area, they should call law enforcement officials immediately. “The number one thing is that they shouldn’t take it upon themselves to get involved,” he said, adding that anyone who calls to report suspicious activity should be specific about what is seen and what may be smelled. Residents also can call the Michigan State Police meth tip line at 1.866.METH-TIP and report activity anonymously.
“We always tell people not to think that they don’t have enough information. A lot of times, there’s just a strong odor and odors are the strongest during cooking,” he said.