Signs of a Meth Drug Lab

What is Meth?

Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is an illegal drug – a Class II controlled substance. It belongs to a group of stimulants known as amphetamines and it has psychoactive properties. It has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Common short term effects of using meth include: an intense high, elevated levels of energy and focus, euphoria, and loss of appetite. Long term effects include: insomnia, paranoia, agitation, irritability, signs of schizophrenia, tooth decay, weight loss, and cardiovascular damage. Methamphetamine abuse has escalated since the 1980’s and in many parts of the country, especially rural areas, it represents the most serious drug problem. These trends have led to increased restrictions of the ingredients and equipment used to make meth, as well as increased penalties for manufacturers, sellers, and users of the drug.

How is meth made?

Methamphetamine, unlike many drugs, is not cultivated or derived from a plant, such as the case with marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and LSD. It must be manufactured or synthesized from other chemicals, most of which are flammable, explosive, and/or toxic. Ingredients for meth manufacture are easily available in many common products found at home or and in cold/allergy medicines that can be bought over the counter at drug stores and pharmacies. Common preparations of meth may require:

The chemistry involved in manufacturing meth is relatively simple and well understood, but still requires specific equipment, which can include:

In most states, all of the ingredients and equipment are legal to purchase and own, although amounts are restricted in certain states with high rates of meth usage.

What are the effects of a Meth lab on the local area?

The chemicals used in manufacturing meth are highly volatile and give off noxious odors. The smell of the chemicals can range from sweet to medicine-y, but they generally smell like ammonia, urine, ether, or acetone. Because of this, many meth manufacturers will seal the windows and doors of the makeshift lab where they make the drug. This only seals in the toxic and flammable vapors, however, which are highly reactive and explosive. As a result, many meth labs catch on fire or explode. The waste products and equipment from making meth are generally dumped outside, posing an environmental threat. The chemicals are highly toxic and can enter local water supplies through the ground. Chemicals will also kill grass and vegetation, causing burns or pits in yards and fields. Meth labs are so dangerous that when they are found, only qualified and licensed individuals wearing hazmat suits can legally clean them up, a process which costs thousands of dollars for every meth lab.

What are signs to look for?

There are some characteristic signs of a meth lab. Each one, by itself may mean nothing, but clusters of these signs together are general indicators of methamphetamine manufacture.

The lab itself will generally be a house or trailer, not an industrial facility. If a mobile home is used, it’s usually parked in wooded or isolated areas to avoid detection. Windows are usually covered or taped over with duct tape or aluminum foil. There are excessive amounts of trash that the manufacturers will not put out for disposal. They may attempt to bury or burn it on the property or put it out for pickup on a neighbor’s lawn. There are signs of chemicals being dumped and bottles, tubing, propane tanks, or other equipment may surround the lab. There may be chemical burns or “pitting” in the yard where grass has been killed by dumped chemicals. The lab may have extensive safety features such as “No Trespassing” signs, trees or bushes, fences, security cameras, guard dogs, and/or firearms. There may be strange smells or chemical odors emanating from the lab. The residents may be secretive, rude, or hostile. They may smoke outside, even in the winter time. Large quantities of equipment to make meth or garbage produced in making it may be transported in and out of the lab. There may be frequent visitors to the lab at all hours of the day and night, often staying for short periods of time. Visitors may be carrying stolen merchandise or equipment such as stereos, computers, instruments, etc. that they trade in exchange for meth.

What do you do if you suspect a meth lab?

If you suspect a meth lab, do not attempt to gather evidence yourself. Meth manufacturers are usually meth users themselves and can be paranoid and dangerous. They may carry firearms or booby trap the property. In addition, exposure to meth labs and their surrounding areas can cause numerous health problems. Contact the police immediately and let them know what you have observed.

If you accidentally stumble upon an abandoned meth lab or an area where meth equipment and chemicals have been dumped, leave the area immediately. Do not touch or smell anything. Contact authorities immediately. Decontaminate yourself as soon as possible by showering thoroughly and bag up and throw away any clothes you were wearing. Only trained and licensed professionals should attempt to clean up a meth lab.