Dangers of Meth
Methamphetamine — also known as meth, crank or speed — is an addictive central nervous system stimulant. Possession, manufacture, or distribution of meth is illegal in many countries, including the United States. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about meth and meth labs — and how this drug can affect you, your family, your home and your community
What are signs of meth use?
A meth user may exhibit some or all of the following symptoms and behaviors and may have some or all of the listed paraphernalia. For pictures of the Physical Symptoms, CLICK HERE.
- Physical Symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Abnormal sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Nasal problems or nosebleeds
- Sores that do not heal
- Dilated pupils
- Burns on lips or fingers
- Track marks on arms
- Behavioral Symptoms:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Change in friends
- Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
- Increased activity
- Long periods of sleeplessness (24-120 hours)
- Long periods of sleep (24-48 hours)
- Incessant talking
- Twitching and shaking
- Decreased appetite
- Erratic attention span
- Repetitious behavior, such as picking at skin, pulling out hair, compulsively cleaning, grooming or disassembling and assembling objects
- Aggression or violent behavior
- False sense of confidence and power
- Carelessness about appearance
- Deceit or secretiveness
- Mental Symptoms:
- Extreme moodiness
- Severe depression
- Delusions of parasites or insects crawling under the skin
- Rolled up paper money or short straws
- Pieces of glass/mirrors
- Razor blades
- Burned spoons
- Surgical tubing
** In all cases of meth use, a user may experience a loss of inhibitions and a false sense of control and confidence, which can lead to dangerous behavior.
What is a meth lab?
An illegal meth or crank lab is an illicit operation that contains chemicals and/or apparatus that either have been or could be used to make meth.
There are several different techniques used to produce meth. All of the processes use a variety of chemicals including explosives, solvents, metals, salts, and corrosives. During the manufacturing process or “cooking”, additional compounds and by-products are produced. The fumes, vapors, and spillage associated with cooking can be toxic.
Clandestine meth labs are found in rural, city, and suburban residences. They are found in houses, apartments, and rental homes; hotel and motel rooms, vehicles or abandoned cars, back rooms of businesses; garages, sheds and other storage facilities, barns, and vacant buildings; campgrounds and rest areas.
Meth can even be made in a small makeshift “lab” that can fit into a suitcase. Small portable labs are commonly referred to as “Mom and Pop” or “Beavis and Butthead” labs. Larger labs that are permanently set up and can produce up to 100 pounds of meth are referred to as “Super” labs
How is meth made?
The process required to make methamphetamine is easier and more accessible than ever. There are literally thousands of recipes and information about making meth on the internet. An investment of a few hundred dollars in over-the-counter medications and chemicals can produce thousands of dollars’ worth of meth.
Some of the ingredients most commonly used to make meth are over-the-counter cold and asthma medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, anhydrous ammonia, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze. Some recipes call for large amounts of industrial and agricultural chemicals, which are either purchased or stolen. These chemicals are then used in large labs or “super” labs.
The average meth “cook” annually teaches 10 other people how to make the drug.
What are signs of a meth lab?
A typical meth lab is a collection of chemical bottles, hoses, and pressurized cylinders. The cylinders can take many forms, from modified propane tanks to fire extinguishers, scuba tanks and soda dispensers. The tanks contain anhydrous ammonia or hydrochloric acid ? both highly poisonous and corrosive.
Labs are frequently abandoned, and the potentially explosive and very toxic chemicals are left behind. Chemicals may also be burned or dumped in woods or along roads.
The most common chemicals used to start the meth-making process are over-the-counter cold and asthma medications which contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as decongestants or stimulants.
Here are signs of a meth lab:
- Unusual strong chemical odors such as ether, ammonia (smell similar to cat urine) and acetone (smells similar to fingernail polish)
- Excess amounts of cold medicines containing Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine * Empty pill bottles or blister packs
- Propane/Freon tanks with blue corrosion on fittings or spray-painted or burned, with bent or tampered valves
- Starting fluid cans opened from the bottom
- Heating sources such as hotplates/torches
- Excess coffee filters
- Excess baggies
- Excess matches
- Excess lithium batteries
- Cookware (Corning type) with white residue
- Glassware, Mason jars or other glass containers
- Plastic tubing
- Hoses leading outside for ventilation
- Soft drink bottles with hoses running from them
- Drain cleaner, paint thinner, toluene, denatured alcohol, ammonia, acid, starter fluid, antifreeze, hydrogen peroxide, rock salt/iodine
- Lantern or camp stove fuel
- Iodine- or chemical-stained bathrooms or kitchen fixtures
- Evidence of chemical waste or dumping
- Excessive amounts of trash, particularly chemical containers, coffee filters with red stains, duct tape rolls, Empty cans of or paint thinner or pieces of red-stained cloth around the property
- Secretive or unfriendly occupants
- Extensive security measures or attempts to ensure privacy such as “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” signs, fences, and large trees or shrubs
- Curtains always drawn or windows blackened or covered with aluminum foil on residences, garages, sheds, or other structures
- Increased activity, especially at night
- Frequent visitors, particularly at unusual times
- Renters who pay their landlords in cash
What are signs of meth distribution?
- Unexplained new wealth
- Frequent visitors
- Late night/early morning meetings
- Borrowing money for short periods of time (24-72 hours)
- Rooms or parts of rooms off limits
- Increase of packages in the mail on a routine basis
What are the health risks if I live in or near a former meth lab?
Meth causes health problems not just for the users, but also for others who are unintentionally exposed to the chemicals.
The risk of injury from chemical exposure depends on the chemical itself, the concentration, the quantity, and the length and route of exposure. Chemicals may enter the body by being breathed, eaten, injected (by a contaminated needle or accidental skin prick), or absorbed by the skin.
Acute Exposure: An acute chemical exposure is one that occurs over a relatively short period of time and may result in health effects. An acute exposure to high levels of contaminants found in meth labs cause shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, chemical irritation, lesions and burns to the skin, eyes, mouth and nose, and in severe cases, death. Acute reactions of this nature could occur during or immediately after a drug bust, before the lab has been ventilated.
Less severe symptoms resulting from a less acute exposure cause headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue or lethargy. These symptoms have been known to occur in people who have entered a drug lab after the bust has been completed, but before the property has been adequately cleaned and ventilated. These symptoms usually go away after several hours.
Corrosive Effects: Inhalation or skin exposure may result in injury from corrosive substances present in a meth lab. Symptoms range from shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, to burns to the skin.
Solvents: Exposure to solvents can irritate the skin, mucous membranes, respiratory tract, and cause central nervous system effects. They are also dangerous because of their fire and explosive properties.
Chronic Exposure: Chronic exposure occurs over an extended period of time, such as weeks, months, or years. A chronic health effect is one that usually appears after a lengthy period of time, possibly years. Not much is known about the chronic health effects from these labs. However, there is scientific evidence from animal and human toxicity studies that shows the chemicals used to manufacture meth can cause a range of health effects include cancer, damage to the brain, liver and kidneys, birth defects, and reproductive problems, such as miscarriages.
What impact does meth have on children living in labs or living with a meth user?
Children found in these conditions are commonly malnourished, improperly clothed, and neglected. Many of these children test positive for having methamphetamine in their bodies. This is due to the access they have to the drug or exposure to second-hand smoke, resulting from a cook or a user smoking in close proximity to a child.
What can I do about a suspected meth lab in my area?
If you suspect a dwelling or property may be an illegal lab, contact your local police, or sheriff’s department. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
Do not enter a site that you think may have been used for cooking meth. Meth labs present extreme dangers from explosions and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Breathing the fumes and handling substances can cause injury and even death.
Meth labs are considered hazardous waste sites and should only be entered by trained and equipped emergency-response professionals (e.g., fire department, HAZMAT, certified lab team). When professionals respond to a drug lab, they do not enter the building until they have put on chemically resistant suits and boots, special gloves and respirators. Safety is of paramount importance for all concerned.
Never handle materials you suspect were used for making meth, such as contaminated glassware and needles. Skin contact can result in burns or poisoning. Handling items can also cause some of the chemicals to explode on contact with water or air.
What is the cost of cleaning up a clandestine meth lab?
Cleanups of labs are extremely resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most jurisdictions. The average cost of a cleanup is about $5,000, but some cost up to $100,000 or more.
How do I know if my house was used to make meth?
First, learn more about past uses of your home. Neighbors can be your best resource about the history of your house or apartment and the people who lived there in the past.
- Questions to ask:
- Have you noticed any strange behaviors from prior occupants or visitors?
- Have you ever noticed chemical smells emanating from the property?
- Have you noticed excessive traffic to and from the house during all hours of the day or night?
- Has there been excessive amounts of trash around the property?
- Were windows ever blacked out or covered?
- You should also check the title of your house for any health orders. You can also call your local police department and ask if they know anything.
- Second, look for these physical signs inside your home:
- Staining or etching marks on sinks, toilets, bathtubs or stove
- Brown and red staining on the walls and other surfaces that almost seem to bleed color when you attempt to wash them.
- Added ventilation systems located over work benches, in attics or in basements
- Third, look for these signs inside and outside your home:
- Chemicals such as toluene, xylene, camp fuel, alcohol, drain cleaners, and/or iodine
- Cold tablet packaging
- Broken batteries, matchbook covers, road flairs and Rock salt, iodine
- Compressed gas cylinders like propane tanks that have been modified and/or have a bluish staining on the valves.
- Plastic or glass containers modified with tubes and/or fittings coming out of them
- Burn piles outside your home
- Dead or dying vegetation outside your home * Buried trash piles outside your home
What can I do if I think my home was used as a meth lab?
If after inspecting your property and talking with your neighbors you feel there is a good chance your home may have been used for a clandestine meth lab, call your Health Department to discuss testing and or cleaning options available to you.
If you own property which has been used as an illegal lab and would like a list of chemicals confiscated during the bust, contact the law enforcement agency responsible for the bust, such as local police or sheriff, State Patrol, or Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
How does meth affect my community?
You might not be using meth or know anyone who is — but it doesn’t mean it’s not affecting you. A meth lab can operate unnoticed in any neighborhood for years, causing serious health hazards to everyone around.
One way is environmental contamination. Each pound of methamphetamine produced leaves behind five or six pounds of toxic waste. Meth cooks often pour leftover chemicals and by-product sludge down drains in nearby plumbing, down storm drains, or directly onto the ground. Chlorinated solvents and other toxic by-products used to make meth pose long-term hazards because they can persist in soil and groundwater for years.
What can I do to help a meth addict?
There are millions of people who have confronted their problems with drugs. Don’t give up. Start here.