Monday, May 10

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Presentation stimulates meth lab awareness     Send a link to a friend

[MAY 10, 2004]  This past Thursday, the Central Illinois Enforcement Group Task Force conducted a presentation about methamphetamine labs in our area. The task force is a group within the Illinois State Police that specializes in methamphetamines. They cover a seven-county area, including Logan County. The sheriff and the chief of police here in Lincoln have been assigned an agent from the enforcement group.

"This task force buys drugs, dismantles labs and handles meth lab investigations," according to Master Sgt. Brad Colbrook.

The everyday police officer does not possess all of the skills needed in a meth investigation; they are not certified. The task force, however, is certified by a 40-hour special course taught in Springfield.

Some citizens in Lincoln might wonder what a meth lab is. According to Colbrook, a meth lab is "an illicit operation of a sufficient combination of an apparatus and chemicals that are used or could be used to make a batch of controlled substances."

Colbrook, who has been in the enforcement group of the state police for 10 years, says, "There are all different types of meth labs. One could be a 40-quart cooler with all the ingredients to make meth," or there could be a full-blown meth lab one might have in a house, apartment, hotel room or trunk of a car.

Abusers make the drug with everyday items. These are very accessible items, the main ingredient being ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, better known as cold medicine.

Colbrook mentioned that cold medicine is being stolen off the shelves in stores to make meth. He told the story of a meth user they were following. He was going from store to store, town to town and stealing cold medicine. The abuser had a very large jacket on and was stuffing it full of cold medicine. He did this every day and was finally apprehended by the task force.

The second main ingredient is widely found in central Illinois. It is called anhydrous ammonia. Farmers use it on their fields to fertilize crops to make them green. Meth users use it to get high. Colbrook warned about the dangers of anhydrous ammonia. If one were to spill it on a part of the body, it would eat through the skin very rapidly.

Some of the other ingredients of meth are ether and Coleman fuel, which are used as solvents in the process of making meth. Once the meth makers have converted all the ingredients they must use, Morton salt is needed to make it into a solid for smoking, although Colbrook says that the majority of users of meth use needles.

Above all, Colbrook emphasizes the importance of how dangerous the labs are themselves. The containers used to store the chemicals in the meth labs are sometimes under pressure and often highly explosive. In fact, he states that 20 percent of the meth labs encountered by the Central Illinois Enforcement Group Task Force are discovered by an accidental explosion or fire.

Not a measured science, not a measured product

Another warning is that most of these chemicals used are mislabeled. The drug itself makes one stay awake for days, and if a user has been up for numerous days, he or she may not realize what chemical is in which container. "These people are not chemists, they are not from Dow," Colbrook said.

User families suffer

This drug also affects children, even though they might not be using it. Becca Ward, an intervention specialist with the Wells Center, a Jacksonville detox center for drug users, spoke about the effects on the families. She said that children are often forgotten about and not fed. "The user does not eat; the drug makes them lose their appetite. Why would they think their child would need food? They don't need it," she explained.

 

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Children of meth users are often asked to help in the making of the drug. There was an instance of this in a nearby county the task force was watching. In the suspected meth lab, there would be a few 14- and 15-year-olds coming and going. When the task force finally received the search warrant to go in, they saw these teens with Mountain Dew bottles. Within the bottles were coffee filters. At that time the task force did not know why this was going on. They pulled one of the teens aside and asked what the filters were for. The teens replied that if they helped, the cook making the meth would give them a coffee filter to put in their drink to get a high. Sometimes the abusers of meth will take coffee filters and strain the meth, which leaves a residue of meth crystals that can be used over a couple of times.

Becca Ward said that if you suspect that a child is in a meth lab environment, you should call the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and let them know. The department would keep the statement on file, and if there is an arrest with that child's parents or guardian, officials would be able to pull that statement out for evidence.

Signs of meth use

Some physical signs that a person is on methamphetamines are rapid weight loss, deterioration of the teeth, dilated pupils, a chemical smell coming from the person, lack of sleep, and sores and scabs. These sores and scabs are very prevalent on the body, and the user will usually be picking at them without knowing they are.

Treatment for a meth user is limited. Ward said, "There really isn't any medication given for meth, although they are now given some medication for anxiety."

One of the hardest steps in the detoxification of meth is sleeping. Meth is very damaging to the body's clock. Some will sleep so soundly that the center might have to hold a mirror under their nose to make sure they are breathing, or some will sleep only in two-hour increments. She also says that most meth users "will not come in the center on their own; it will take a judge to get them to detox."

Colbrook said it best, "We are not here to teach you how to make meth but to let people be aware of meth." There needs to be awareness in Lincoln and Logan County about meth labs and the warning signs that go along with them.

Since 1997, meth labs have been popping up in Logan County, and the trend is heading east at a steady rate. Colbrook said, "Since Logan County is a farming community, meth labs will be here -- we can't escape them -- but what we can do is give people awareness."

For more information on meth labs or methamphetamines in general go to these websites: www.erowid.org, www.lycaeum.org, www.health.org, www.drugfreeamerica.org or the Illinois State Police website at www.isp.state.il.us.

If you suspect that there is a meth lab or someone on meth, contact the Lincoln Police or the Central Illinois Enforcement Group Task Force at (217) 782-4750 or e-mail Brad Colbrook at colbrob@isp.state.il.us.

[Melissa McKay]

 

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