Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 30, 2013

Methamphetamine production can cause dangerous fumes, fires

Most common method uses ingredients and equipment that can fit into a duffle bag

MEYERSDALE, Pa. — In response to the discovery of a series of meth labs in southern Somerset County, a Community Methamphetamine Awareness event was held Wednesday in Meyersdale.

Sponsored by the Somerset County Drug Free Communities, the event featured a panel of law enforcement and drug/alcohol treatment experts sharing information on the dangers of “one-pot” meth labs in the region.

Meth, a man-made drug, comes in many forms and can be smoked, snorted, orally ingested or injected. The drug is highly addictive, but the danger is not limited to dependency, the very act of producing the drug can cause dangerous fumes and fires.

Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Dennis Ulery serves as the coordinator for the PSP Clandestine Lab Team, the agency tasked with identifying meth labs and safely disposing of materials.

“All of the ingredients to produce meth are available at your local convenience and drug stores and a batch of meth can be cooked in less than two hours,” he explained to more than 100 citizens gathered for the event.

While there are many “recipes” and methods for cooking meth, the most common method uses ingredients and equipment that can easily fit into a duffle bag. These ingredients can include cold medications, containing pseudoephedrine, ammonia, anti-freeze, battery acid and drain cleaner.

The most common containers used to mix the highly flammable and toxic ingredients are soda or energy drink bottles. Ulery said materials can be easily transported between locations and “labs” can be set up anywhere, indoors or out. The materials discarded after the meth is “cooked” are also flammable.

“Methamphetamine is extremely addictive,” Ulery said. “The chemicals are easily accessible and it is easy to process. The process is highly dangerous. The likelihood of a fire or explosion sometime in the person’s career of cooking meth is very high. They will burn themselves or burn something down.”

Ulery said the number of meth labs discovered is steadily increasing. In 2012, more than 11,210 labs were found across the country, and in Pennsylvania, 179 labs were found last year.

Meth, unlike many drugs, can have an effect on an individual for up to 24 hours and remains in the body for more than 12 hours. Considered a stimulant, meth affects the central nervous system and can be fatal after just one use.

Ulery said meth users often exhibit easily identifiable symptoms such as dilated pupils, excessive sweating, ticks, are often very talkative and paranoid, and may have what experts call “crank bugs.” Crank bugs are caused by users scratching or picking at their skin because they feel like something is crawling beneath the surface of their skin.

Long-term effects can include kidney and liver damage, heart infections, brain damage or strokes.

The presentation included a slide show of photographs of individuals who have used meth. The transformation was dramatic and in some cases the individuals were nearly unrecognizable after just a few months of use.

Ronna Yablonski, director of Somerset County Drug Free Communities, said the public can play a a key role in helping to identify meth users and the location of meth labs in their communities.

“We can all take steps to keep our communities safe. If you see someone buying these items or you see discarded bottles or see something unusual, call the police immediately,” she said.

“We cannot ignore the problems that drug use causes to our communities, families, children, schools and businesses. Methamphetamine is a very dangerous drug that is having an increasing presence in our county. The more educated the public becomes, the more the problems can be addressed and curtailed,” Yablonski added.

Contact Angie Brant at abrant@times-news.com.

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