Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

June 11, 2014

Barren among top meth counties

GLASGOW — Barren County is the third-highest county in Kentucky for methamphetamine production, based on 2013 data, and the state is No. 3 in the nation.

Shannon White, deputy director of and hazardous materials coordinator for Glasgow-Barren County Emergency Management, announced those figures Wednesday during a quarterly meeting of Emergency Management Emergency Support Functions, which includes representatives from a variety of agencies that would be involved in a major emergency event.

He said Tennessee and Missouri go back and forth between Nos. 1 and 2 in national meth rankings, with Tennessee currently having the dubious honor.

White, who has been a meth lab technician since 2005, explained in a presentation the types of chemical reactions that occur, particularly in what are known as “shake and bake” labs, which are often in plastic soda bottles. He showed pictures of what the containers look like during and after the mixing process, as well as the finished product, and he advised the audience to never pick up anything they suspect could have been part of a meth lab.

Among the most unsettling facts White shared was that meth addicts have methods to reclaim the unabsorbed portion of meth from their urine. They dry it and reuse it.

A person can create a shake-and-bake lab virtually anywhere, even inside a store, White said, further describing an example in which a woman would occasionally reach in her purse and vent the fumes while walking through a local store. Crystal meth, however, cannot be manufactured in that type of lab; it has to be made in what is called a superlab, and none of those are known to exist around here, so any of that substance found here has been shipped from elsewhere.

Although some of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process may vary, the one common element required is pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter nasal decongestant. There is no substitute for that particular compound available in the United States, White said.

Several years ago, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law restricting the amount of the drug any individual can purchase within 30 days, and the buyer has to show identification and sign a register. The quantity was further restricted in 2012. Meth producers get around this at times by paying various people – often young adults who are hanging around with friends in a parking lot – to make those purchases. This allows the meth producers to get larger quantities at one time and leave their names out of the records, White said. Those buyers, however, also can be charged with committing a crime in such instances, he said.

Legislation has been proposed but hasn’t passed for the past two years to make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug, White said.

Part of the reason it has failed is that the pharmaceutical companies lobby against the measure, he said, adding that the sale of pseudoephedrine is a $600-million-a-year industry.

“It’s big money. They’re not going to give up easy on that,” White said.

He later provided a number that audience members could use to contact local legislators to encourage them to support the legislation. He also said some cities and counties in Kentucky have passed local ordinances to require prescriptions for the drug. Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer, who was present at the meeting, said any local push for that would need to start with magistrates.

Two states – Oregon and Mississippi – have passed such laws, he said, and Oregon has gone from having 400 to 500 labs a year to around 15. Mississippi’s law is newer, but the state has already seen a significant reduction in meth labs, he said.

Meth production in Barren County is more often for the makers’ own use or to trade for some other product rather than mass distribution, he said. Frequently, they leave chemicals, containers and other necessary items in random places, often outside and accessible to anyone, where they can picked up when needed. This keeps them from having the items with them in case they encounter law enforcement or anyone else they don’t want to see, White said.

“They’re leaving this stuff around everywhere,” he said.

Mowing crews frequently find these things alongside roads; in fact, a county crew found two hydrochloric acid gas generators Tuesday, White said. HCL generators are used to siphon smoke from the lab, further reducing the mixture. They can take several forms, but one shake-and-bake version would have some type of tubing coming from a two-liter soda bottle.

Anyone who finds something like that should not touch it and should call a law enforcement agency to have it properly removed, White said.

A bottle without the tubing can also be dangerous, though, because getting a good whiff of those chemicals can cause respiratory damage. Clues that a bottle may have been used to cook meth are a whitish, filmy residue, colored – often blue – liquids, and black specks inside the bottle or in the liquid.

Children should be taught to never pick up unfamiliar bottles and especially not to open them or try to smell what’s inside. A local child had to spend 13 days in the hospital after picking up an HCL generator and breathing those fumes, White said.

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