Pubdate: Thu, 08 Jul 2004
Source: Dispatch, The (NC)
Copyright: 2004, The Lexington Dispatch
Author: Rachel Leonard, The Dispatch
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


When N.C. Highway Patrol trooper R.T. Simmons stops a car
for speeding or other traffic violation, his eyes automatically survey
the vehicle for beer bottles or visible drug paraphernalia.

But from now on, he'll be taking a closer look for other suspicious
vehicle contents thanks to a statewide effort to train troopers to
better identify mobile methamphetamine labs and the products used in
manufacturing the high-powered stimulant. A truck bed filled with old
chemical bottles and empty boxes of Sudafed, a meth ingredient, is
enough to make Simmons suspect more than a traffic offense, he said.

"All the junk isn't junk," he said.

Simmons was one of approximately 45 troopers and Motor Carrier
Enforcement officers who took part Wednesday in a mobile meth lab
recognition class developed by the State Bureau of Investigation and
held locally at the Welcome Fire Department. The program trains
troopers how to identify mobile meth labs and what to do in case they
come across one.

Meth, easily manufactured using over-the-counter medications and
household chemicals, has steadily creeped across the country since its
inception decades ago on the West Coast. In 2003, there were 177 meth
lab seizures in North Carolina, according to SBI figures. Three of
those were in Davidson County.

Tackling the scourge of stationary meth labs, located in homes or
outdoors, falls under the jurisdiction of local sheriff's offices or
police departments. But officers are increasingly discovering meth
labs inside cars and motor homes. Meth manufacturers also use vehicles
to transport precursor chemicals or batches of chemicals that have
already been mixed.

Because the chemicals used to make the drug can produce dangerous
fumes or explode, the meth problem is a dangerous one for law
enforcement officers. The average cost to clean up a lab is $12,000,
according to SBI figures.

At Wednesday's session, troopers learned which chemicals, medications
and equipment can indicate meth production. Trooper S.M. Comer was one
officer surprised to learn how easy it is to obtain the chemicals
needed to make meth.

Comer, who has learned about meth labs in the past but never undergone
in-depth training, said until Wednesday, he didn't know what items
indicate a meth lab might be present.

"I'll be able to recognize more meth products," he

1st Sgt. Brian Regan of the local Highway Patrol office said troopers,
unfortunately, should expect to use their new training in the future.

"As prevalent as it's become, yes, it's a good possibility that
they'll run across a mobile meth lab in the vehicles," he said.

Regan himself learned a thing or two at Wednesday's training session.
"Now, we've got to take a look at things a little bit differently," he
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