Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jan 2002
Source: Decatur Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2002 The Decatur Daily
Author: Eric Fleischauer
Note: Eric Fleischauer is a lawyer and DAILY copy editor.
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Meth is scary stuff.

The ease of making methylamphetamine, combined with its potent "high," has 
caused the drug to become increasingly popular in North Alabama.

Methylamphetamine, also called "meth," "crystal meth" and "crank," was the 
subject of a recent indictment of a Falkville man. Yesterday a police 
officer was injured in Fort Payne while raiding a meth lab. Not long ago, a 
suspected meth lab triggered a raid at a Decatur Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart 
arrests came because a security officer noticed customers purchasing large 
amounts of ingredients used in the manufacture of crystal meth. The federal 
Drug Enforcement Administration has conducted numerous raids in North 
Alabama: 43 in the year ending September 2000, 67 in the year ending 
September 2001 and already 43 since Oct. 1 2001.

The proliferation of the drug is in part a result of the Internet. Precise 
instructions (or "recipes") on the manufacture (or "cooking") of crystal 
meth are easy to find.

Adding to the pervasiveness of the drug is the fact that all of the 
ingredients necessary in its manufacture are both legal and readily 
available. While recipes vary, most use the following items: Heet or some 
other antifreeze containing methyl alcohol, matches or road flares, 
pseudoephedrine tablets, lye, lighter fluid, muriatic acid and denatured 
alcohol. Apparatus typically includes cigar tubes or test tubes with 
stoppers, a candle or hot plate, coffee filters, small balloons, and an 
eyedropper or syringe.

Methylamphetamine is often referred to as a "poor man's cocaine." Unlike 
cocaine, methylamphetamine can be made by anyone with simple instructions, 
easily accessible materials and readily available chemicals.

According to an out-of-state source, recent arrests at Wal-Mart are not a 
coincidence. The source, who referred to himself as "Vincent," claims to 
work at a meth lab in Michigan. I contacted him through the Internet.

Wal-Mart is the supplier of choice for meth manufacturers, says Vincent, 
"because it carries all of the ingredients we need and the stores usually 
have lots of cashiers." The significance of multiple cashiers is that the 
required ingredients can be purchased at a single store with less 
likelihood of arousing suspicion. According to Vincent in an e-mail, all of 
the materials "to set up a portable micro lab can be bought for less than $20."

One "batch" from such a lab yields about .75 grams (750 milligrams) of 
crystal meth, according to Vincent. Because the dose needed for a crystal 
meth "high" is about 60 milligrams, Vincent said, a single batch is plenty 
for a small group of people. According to Vincent, a batch of crystal meth 
can be produced in less than three hours.

On the street, Vincent says that crystal meth is sold by the "line," which 
is an amount of powder about three centimeters long and three millimeters 
wide. In the area where he lives, the street cost of crystal meth is about 
$20 for three "lines."

The substance is typically a white powder and looks like cocaine, according 
to Vincent. Occasionally crystal meth has a yellow or pink tint resulting 
from residual dye in one of its ingredients, pseudoephedrine. The drug also 
is usually "snorted" into the nose like cocaine.

In testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee 
on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources on July 12, 2001, DEA 
Chief of Operations Joseph D. Keefe explained, Methylamphetamine is, in 
fact, a simple drug to produce. A user can go to retail stores and easily 
purchase the vast majority of the ingredients necessary to manufacture the 
drug. Items such as rock salt, battery acid, red phosphorous road flares, 
pool acid, and iodine crystals can be utilized to substitute for some of 
the necessary chemicals."

The proliferation of meth labs is such that, since 1997, more than 97 
percent of the DEA's lab seizures have been of methylamphetamine and 
amphetamine labs.

According to the DEA, methylamphetamine street prices range from $20 to 
$200 per gram.

Increased law enforcement attention to "precursors," that is, easily 
accessible chemicals that a "cook" converts to meth ingredients, has led to 
a black market for otherwise legal substances.

There were 1,116 meth labs seized by law enforcement authorities in the 
Southeast between January 1999 and July 2001, according to a report by the 
National Drug Intelligence Center, an office of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Meth is an exceptionally dangerous drug.

According to Vincent, the primary dangers during the cooking process are 
greatly reduced if the process is performed outside. The main risk is from 
the methyl alcohol, which is flammable. The other risk involves combining 
the red phosphorous and iodine. If not mixed properly, fire can result.

Of course, the most profound danger is to the meth user, referred to on the 
street as a "tweaker."

According to the DEA, meth use "increases the heart rate, blood pressure, 
body temperature, and rate of breathing, and it frequently results in 
violent behavior in users."

One former user who talked to me by phone on condition of anonymity 
recalled two of his friends who were on an extended meth "high." He watched 
as they tried to pick nonexistent "blue bugs" off of their skin, leaving 
deep gouges. Not satisfied, they stripped off their clothes and poured 
bleach on each other trying to kill the bugs.

Meth use also "dilates the pupils and produces temporary hyperactivity, 
euphoria, a sense of increased energy, and tremors. High doses or chronic 
use have been associated with increased nervousness, irritability, and 
paranoia. Withdrawal from high doses produces severe depression," according 
to the DEA.

Because of the highly addictive nature of meth, users frequently are unable 
to quit. Chronic abuse leads to severe mental problems characterized by 
paranoia, picking at the skin and hallucinations.

DEA studies demonstrate that "violent and erratic behavior is frequently 
seen among chronic, high-dose methylamphetamine abusers." According to the 
DEA, it is not unusual for a chronic user to go without sleep for three to 
15 days. The user becomes "irritable and paranoid.

The tweaker has an intense craving for more meth; however, no dosage will 
help recreate the euphoric high."

Help is available for meth users at Quest recovery center in Decatur, which 
can be reached at 353-9116.
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