HAZARD — The Hazard Police Department and Operation UNITE hosted a community meeting this week to help inform residents of the dangers and signs of making meth.
Meth has been moving eastward with incredible speed since the introduction of the shake-and-bake method. Through this method, meth can now be made in a 20-ounce soda bottle with only 45 minutes and a trip to Walmart, most grocery stores, or even CVS or Lowe’s. The volatile concoction of liquid fire, lithium, pseudoephedrine, ammonium nitrate and brick cleaner creates toxic gas inside the small bottle that has the potential to blow up and cause a fire, or even poison people around it.
This is especially frightening for officials, considering many of these types of meth labs are being found in hotels, cars and even in store restrooms where the ingredients are bought. According to Dan Smoot with Operation UNITE, even once the process of extracting meth is complete, these bottles can still be highly dangerous and explosive.
A meeting held in the Perry County Public Library auditorium on May 29 gave residents and first responders a better indication of what to look for and how to handle a situation when they suspect someone of making meth.
Smoot, who has been in police work for 32 years and in narcotics enforcement for 26, noted that during his entire career, “I have never encountered anything like meth.”
“It is the worst of the worst,” he added. “It is by far the most highly addictive drug around. It does explode in the process, and it does contaminate anybody that comes near it.”
Smoot said that while any of the ingredients in meth do not by themselves raise a red flag, buying large quantities, or in conjunction with other items, can be a sign that someone is making meth. Knowing what to look for can help keep yourself and community members safe.
Meth contains many chemicals, including lithium taken from batteries, lighter fluid, fertilizer, Coleman camp fuel, brick cleaner, coffee filters and allergy medication. Many of these items can be substituted, but one of them, a decongestant called pseudoephedrine, is always necessary.
“[They] have to have pseudoephedrine,” said Smoot. “It is the only one product you have to have to make methamphetamine.”
Federal law mandates that no one person can buy more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine in a month, however, Kentucky just limited this to only seven and a half grams. Smoot said that this is a step in the right direction, but is not much of a hurdle for experienced meth cooks. He said that many of them do not buy their own ingredients. They trade ingredients for finished product through a process called smurfing.
Smurfing is when a meth cook gets other people to buy pseudoephedrine for them so they can get more than the legal amount in a single month. In some states, pseudoephedrine can only legally be obtained through a prescription, and officials there have seen significant decreases in the number of meth labs.
Mexico used to be a main exporter of meth to the United States, but since then officials there have banned pseudoephedrine, drastically reducing meth manufacturing there.
Once someone has the necessary products to create meth, it is put into a bottle that immediately becomes a volatile combination of chemicals. Lithium alone will catch fire in the presence of any moisture.
“It will shoot up a flame about eight feet high,” said Smoot.
The bottle will begin to expand and can explode if the pressure is not released in a process called burping.
“Here is the problem, most of them take this bottle and throw it out the right window and this bottle and throw it out the left one,” said Smoot. “You can literally find these two bottles all over the state of Kentucky. If you, a kid, or anybody picks this bottle up and shakes it, it starts the chemical reaction back over.”
These bottles can explode and cause injury. Smoot said that in some areas UNITE crews are brought in to help clean up during PRIDE clean-up days to avoid any volunteers getting hurt. One of these areas is Laurel County, which has been the hardest hit by meth in recent years.
Kentucky as a whole now ranks number four for the most meth incidents in the country.
“We had over 1,200 incidents of meth labs,” said Smoot.
While Perry County has seen relatively few of these incidents, meth is starting to creep into the county. This is why it is important that people know what to look for and what to do if a lab if found, Smoot noted.
“The bigger problem is Perry County is a source county,” he added. “When I say a source county it means you have a lot of pharmacies.”
Because so many people from neighboring areas are coming to Hazard and Perry County to obtain the ingredients for meth, the responsibility often falls on the stores to look out for people making suspicious purchases. Some stores will limit the number of lithium batteries someone can buy at a given time, others are now keeping both pseudoephedrine and batteries behind the counter.
Smoot said that unfortunately some store owners do not know what to look for, and as sales increase for some of these ingredients they will actually market them and put them on display.
For people living near what they suspect is a home that is also serving as a meth lab, offiicals noted that there can be a distinct chemical smell coming from the home, and often burn piles containing the packaging from some of the products used. Living near these homes or going into them can contaminate anyone in the area.
It can be especially hard on children living in these homes. They can develop what looks like rashes, but are actually chemical burns from touching carpet and walls. They can also have a cough or other flu-like symptoms and have a chemical smell.
It is important that anyone in contact with meth making is decontaminated so as not to spread any chemicals to others.
Smoot said that meth was created to keep soldiers awake during World War II, and it still has the same effect. It can make people using meth highly dangerous and very strong, since they do not feel their muscles fatigue. Once someone starts to take meth, he added, they are usually in the final stages of their addiction. And once they begin taking meth, the average user has a life expectancy of about five years.
“No one starts out on methamphetamine,” he said. “You can talk to any addict. Meth is usually the last drug that they try because they know once you get addicted to meth you are all but dead. Most of them don’t live five years.”
People taking meth often develop sores on their face and arms, and their faces take on a sunken appearance. Early intervention is important to help that person and to stop the spread and sale to others, officials say. If any meth activity is suspected in your neighborhood, or with anyone you know, call authorities as soon as possible.