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Police on alert for meth labs

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Drug is dangerous and highly addictive, experts say

By Stephen Lega

A few weeks ago, Byron Richardson was helping clean up a suspected methamphetamines lab on Country Club Drive. Last week, he led training sessions with members of the Lebanon Police Department about the dangers of meth and the procedures they should follow if they discover a lab in the future.

For some, the training was a refresher course. For others, the training provided fresh information.

Methamphetamines are considered a stimulant, like cocaine. There is a key difference, however.

"Cocaine is made from natural substances, from plants," Richardson said. "Meth is made from household chemicals."

Antifreeze, battery acid, drain cleaner and other household chemicals (many of which are considered poisonous if consumed) are used in the production of meth, according to Richardson.

Other chemicals that are often found in meth labs include anhydrous ammonia, chloroform, ethyl ether, ethanol and hydrochloric acid, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration meth lab clean-up guidelines.

The DEA guidelines also describe the production of meth in more basic ways, the combination of central nervous system toxicants and flammable solvents.

The key ingredient in meth, however, is pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine is found in many common cold and allergy medications, such as Sudafed.

Richardson said state laws limiting the purchase of products containing pseudoephedrine have reduced the number of meth labs in Kentucky, but now meth cooks are paying people to import pseudoephedrine from state's with less restrictive laws.

"That's almost become a business in itself," Richardson said.

The dangers of meth labs aren't limited to the use of the product. The "cooking" process involves toxic gasses that can contaminate a house and kill individuals, and the use and creation of explosive chemicals.

If the police suspect a meth lab is present, they are advised to evacuate a building, secure the scene and contact the Kentucky State Police Drug Task Force, which has been trained to handle the clean up of the meth labs.

  Why people use meth?

Chemically, meth raises the dopamine levels in a user's brain. The human body produces dopamine naturally, and it is often associated with good feelings.

According to Richardson, meth can be ingested, inhaled, injected or swallowed, and initially it provides the user with a euphoric feeling.

The rush from using meth can last from five to 30 minutes, and the subsequent high can last up to 16 hours. When users are coming down from their high, they will often take more meth to sustain the high for days at a time, Richardson said.

During this time, meth users will often go without food or sleep.

Eventually, the body will fight back by crashing, which can also last for days at a time. After a crash, meth users go through a period of "tweaking," which lasts from two to 24 days. While tweaking, meth will not provide any rush or high for the user, no matter how much they use, Richardson said.

Meth is highly addictive, but the body also develops a tolerance quickly, meaning it takes more and more of the drug for a user to feel high.

According to Richardson, users will never feel as high as they do the first time they use meth, and long-term users are constantly chasing that high again.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term meth use leads to even more detrimental effects.

Users can become aggressive and violent, develop skin sores (often from picking at their skin) and poor hygiene, have seizures and experience psychosis, which includes hallucinations, repetitive motor activity and paranoia. Long-term users can also experience weight loss and may have rotting teeth.

Likewise, the spikes in dopamine production that result from meth use can inhibit the body's ability to produce dopamine naturally.

Meth's effects aren't limited to the user, either. Richardson said children of meth users are often neglected, and many children removed from meth labs often test positive for the drug as well.

Users will often resort to other criminal behaviors to obtain money to pay for the drug as well. Richardson estimated that as much as 90 percent of crimes committed have some drug connection.

He added that one of three things usually happens to meth users. First, they die as a result of their drug use. Second, they end up in prison, or third, they get help as a result of a major intervention from family and friends.

"The third one is less likely than anything else," Richardson said.

Manufacturing methamphetamines is a Class B felony that can lead up to a sentence of 10-20 years in prison. Trafficking in meth is a Class C felony, that can carry a 5-10-year sentence, and possession of meth is a Class D felony that can lead to 1-5 years in prison.

Compared to other parts of the state, Marion County has not had the same level of problems from methamphetamines, but the police still want citizens to be alert.

"If they suspect a lab, call us," Richardson said. "We'll investigate it."

  How to help?

Officer Byron Richardson of the Lebanon Police and METH360, an educational project of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, provided some signs that a meth lab may be in your area.

  - High traffic, particularly at night. - Blacked-out windows to conceal the production inside.

- Strong odors, often similar to ammonia, cat urine, ether or other chemical smells

- Large amounts of trash, such as peroxide bottles, antifreeze containers and fuel additives.

- Burning trash instead of disposing of it in trash cans.

- High security measures. Richardson said this can include security systems, attack dogs, booby traps and armed guards, depending on where the meth lab is located.

Anyone who suspects a meth lab, should contact the Lebanon Police at (270) 692-2121 or the Marion County Sheriff's Office at (270) 692-3051.

To learn more about methamphetamines and its effects on users and communities, visit www.drugfree.org/Meth360/.