Pubdate: Fri, 05 Mar 2004
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2004 Fort McMurray Today
Author: Kate Dubinski
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


The local housing crunch has at least one positive side effect: drug 
dealers don't have enough space to set up meth labs.

There were nine methamphetamine labs busted in Alberta last year; Mounties 
here say to their knowledge, there aren't any in the city.

"Generally speaking, people are importing (meth) from larger centres," said 
Cpl. Jim Janczek, head of the RCMP's drug squad in Fort McMurray. "You 
don't have to be a rocket scientist to make it, but you destroy the place 
you're doing it in."

The average price of a home in Fort McMurray - over $300,000 - and high 
rents - $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit - have been cited as a 
barrier to people moving here. That means this region is a far cry from a 
perfect place for a meth lab.

"There's limited space here," Janczek said. "You couldn't do it in an 
apartment, and there's not that many houses available. You could get away 
with it for a while (in a house), but you'd pretty much get shut down 
before you got started."

Methamphetamine, the synthetic, more potent form of amphetamine, was first 
developed in 1919. It became commonly available in the 1940s as a 
prescription drug to treat a range of conditions, from attention deficit 
hyperactivity disorder to narcolepsy.

Meth is a popular street drug in parts of the U.S. since the 1970s, when 
biker gangs in California and the Pacific Northwest realized how lucrative 
it could be.

A strong odour is one of the tell-tale signs of a drug trafficking house. 
Others include late-night activity, higher-than-normal security, residents 
never putting out their trash and extra effort being made to cover windows 
or reinforce doors.

Federal regulations mean Canadians can buy and store many of the chemicals 
used to make meth without breaking the law, and that makes it difficult for 
police to lay charges in cases where the finished product isn't found at 
the scene.

"Here (in McMurray), we're constantly vigilant about looking out for (meth 
labs)," Janczek said. "We're counting our lucky stars that it hasn't come 
yet, but we're on the lookout."

Perhaps more than any other narcotic, meth is a deadly threat not only to 
the addicts who use it, but to the rest of society. Meth labs are so 
dangerous that they put entire neighbourhoods at risk.

Manufacturing it involves applying heat to explosive chemicals, and one of 
the byproducts of the process is phosphene gas, a chemical so poisonous it 
can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or even absorbed through the skin.

The byproducts and toxic chemicals get into the insulation of the building 
or structure the drug is being cooked in, Janczek said.

When a lab is discovered by police, hazardous materials teams must secure 
the building, and Health Canada has to inspect the property to determine if 
it's safe to be lived in again.

Meth does similar damage to the human body, Janczek said.

"It doesn't metabolize in people, it just gets stored in fat cells in the 
body. Eventually, it attacks all your vital organs. Basically, you die a 
slow and painful death."
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