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01-08-04: Grand Lake Task Force chief: Local counties full of illegal meth


Law enforcement officials know people are cooking in Mercer and Auglaize counties, but the reason has nothing to do with putting dinner on the table.
“Not since crack cocaine have we seen anything as dangerous as methamphetamine,” said Scott Duff, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification. “It is being produced in clandestine laboratories. They’re here and I guarantee you will be finding some within several weeks. After this program, you will see things that register.”
Duff presented two Methamphetamine Laboratory Awareness programs Wednesday at Wright State University-Lake Campus, instructing law enforcement officers, firefighters, rescue squad personnel and township trustees what to look for as they go about their duties.
“Meth is an epidemic sweeping across the country,” said Lt. Steve Stienecker, head of the Grand Lake Task Force, which sponsored the programs. “It’s not just coming here; it is here in Mercer and Auglaize counties. I have a sick feeling our counties are full of it.”
The methamphetamine lab phenomena started out west and spread eastward. In 1996, authorities found one lab here in Ohio, The numbers increased to 13 in 1998 and 269 in 2003. Based on conservative estimates, Duff expects 500 labs will be found in the state before the dawn of 2005.
“Meth is easy to make from ingredients that can be purchased or stolen,” he said. “It is highly addictive, slow to metabolize and offers a huge profit margin.”
The finished product — brown, white or nearly any color — is smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally.
While crack cocaine has an immediate effect lasting about 20 minutes, meth sustains its victims for up to eight hours. Crack binges rarely last more than 72 hours while meth binges can continue for up to two weeks, according to Duff.
Meth users become agitated and feel “wired” to a point where they go days without sleep. Behavior turns unpredictable — one minute a person is friendly and calm, the next angry and paranoid.
Targeted investigations turn up some clandestine labs, but inadvertent discoveries lead to others.
Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies found their first lab Nov. 6 while serving an unrelated arrest warrant at a Wabash-area home. They had no idea of its presence until telltale signs — suspicious drug paraphernalia and odors — were detected while looking for suspect Gary B. Williams.
BCI & I agents have found clandestine labs in campers, mobile homes, tool sheds, kitchens, bathrooms, motel rooms, car trunks and pickup beds.
“If you can stand in it or move around it, you can make meth in it,” Duff said. “Mobile labs and box labs are common because they can be taken from place to place with relative ease.”
Ten years ago meth was manufactured in huge quantities at Mexican national labs and shipped eastward by drug lords. Stienecker and Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey believe that was indeed the case with drugs seized in a January 2002 raid in Mercer County. It turned out to be the largest meth bust in the state.
Simplified methods and easy-to-acquire components have turned cooking meth into a process that does not require professional equipment or a scientific background, Duff said. The components include plastic drink bottles, tubing, glass cookware with a powdery residue, glass jars containing liquid, stained coffee filters, kitty litter, anhydrous ammonia cylinders, propane cylinders with fittings that have turned blue, spent road flares, stripped lithium batteries, empty containers of fuel, starting fluid, Red Devil lye and drain cleaners and a large number of cold tablet bottles or blister packs.
“It definitely does not take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to manufacture meth,” Duff said. “Cooks can go right over to Wal-Mart or K-Mart and buy or steal what they need. Somebody who purchases a case of drain cleaner is probably doing something they should not be doing.”
The same applies to over-the-counter cold medications, especially those listing Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine among the ingredients. Thirty-three bottles, each containing 1,000 tablets, yields about 1 to 11⁄2 kilos of meth. Anyone needing that much cold medication has a problem requiring hospitalization, Duff pointed out with a chuckle.
There are several four-step processes used in the production of meth. Authorities believe the Birch Reduction or Nazi method is the most common in predominantly rural areas where anhydrous ammonia is easy to acquire. The substance farmers use as fertilizer is needed during extraction and ether from starting fluid is the solvent of choice. Duff believes “cooks” obtain anhydrous through thefts at the rate of five to 10 gallons at a time from farms or farm service businesses.
“We know the Nazi method is being used here because we have found discarded anhydrous tanks in the countryside,” Stienecker said. “And we know the contents were not used for agricultural purposes.”
Duff warned clandestine labs are dangerous given the corrosive or flammable nature of the materials used.
“Never crack the lid on a jar or container holding some type of liquid unless you know what it is. Leave that for trained professionals,” he said.


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