The Danger of Meth Labs
Methamphetamine abuse is increasing in many American states, becoming popularized in popular media and in news clippings. In previous years, 440,000 people used methamphetamine in a regular basis. The demand for methamphetamine or “meth” can cause someone to crave it so deeply, they manufacture it in meth labs in their home or cars. Many individuals also cook meth not only for their own supply, but often so that they can sell it and make money to support their habit as well.
People typically cook meth in pots on the stove or in microwaves. Methods known as the “shake and bake method” allows individuals to shake bottles made of ingredients to make meth. As a result, they create highly damaging effects that can be fatal to the user and other people in the vicinity.
What Are Meth Labs?
Meth labs are makeshift laboratories people use to manufacture and create meth. Such labs are popping up to accommodate users’ need for meth at alarming rates. Many are found in the Midwest. The greatest number of meth labs are likely in Missouri, where 1,825 meth labs were identified in a single year. Tennessee follows, where 1,585 meth labs were identified in one year. These labs can be in apartments, houses, sheds, or even hotels, most commonly in the kitchen. Some individuals even use their cars as meth labs. Because of the lure of seclusion, meth labs are often found in forests and other remote areas.
The Toxicity of Meth Labs
Meth can be made from household items, namely pseudoephedrine, found in medications in grocery stores. However, pharmacies have caught on to people using pseudoephedrine, as many meth cookers purchased or stole large quantities of medications with the ingredient, such as Sudafed. Therefore, these medications are now only sold behind the counter and the amount that a single individual can purchase is limited.
Other ingredients like antifreeze, iodine, and kitty litter make meth easily accessible, but highly toxic. Making meth produces extremely hazardous results. Several of the ingredients are highly flammable, leave strong odors behind, and damage internal organs.
Because meth production requires the use of hazardous, corrosive, or flammable chemicals, the vapors that are created during the chemical reactions actually attack the mucous membranes of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract of any nearby individuals. Some of these chemicals even react dangerously to water, and some can cause fire or explosion very easily.
Exposure to meth can also increase the risk of nausea, burns, dizziness, skin, and eye irritation. Meth production creates toxic waste like battery acid and harmful contaminants that endanger the environment. These toxins are so dangerous, they can also cause disfigurement or death if they come into direct contact with the skin or are inhaled into the lungs.
Individuals dump the 5 to 7 pounds of liquid waste for each pound of meth made, including corrosive liquids, acid vapors, heavy metals, solvents, and other harmful materials. The ingredients and waste are often left on the ground, exposing the earth and people in the area to radioactive chemicals. Empty bottles and waste are also left to pollute the ground. Because lab operators almost always illegally dump this waste in ways that damage the environment, national parks and other nature preserves and parks have been adversely affected.
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Meth labs still have an impact on the home and the surrounding area around it for many years after they are shut down. Former meth labs have to be thoroughly cleaned before they are safe for use, and many buildings are deemed permanently unsafe and have to be demolished. New inhabitants moving into a home that was a former meth lab find contaminations that are significantly higher than average after meth testing.
Toxins pollute all areas of the home, lingering long after the meth lab vacates the premises. The contamination often creates short-term health effects in the inhabitants, many of which require hospitalization. Some health effects have the potential to lead to irreversible damage, even death, depending on how long the individual resides in the infected home. In drug busts, police often report headaches due to the harsh chemical compounds found in meth. There have also been reports of police developing nose bleeds, mouth sores, and difficulty breathing after even a very short time within these homes.
Second-Hand Toxic Exposure to Children
Children are also impacted by the harmful chemicals of meth labs as their parents abuse the substance. Children in the home are especially vulnerable to respiratory infection at young stages of development. Meth toxins can hide in the carpet of the home, for example, and young children may unknowingly put contaminated toys that have been on the floor in their mouth.
Many other household items such as couches, baby bottles, clothing, blankets, and draperies absorb vaporized chemicals from meth use or the production of meth in their homes. Even a child’s mother’s hair absorbs toxic chemicals that can be inhaled by the child. Children are also at risk of accidental needle-sticks from contacting improperly stored syringes (in ash trays, on table tops, and et cetera).
At some in-home meth labs, the “cook” will dump toxic byproducts into the plumbing drains, contaminating the entire waste system, including the sinks and toilets. Due to this, children are in constant contact with not only the active chemicals, they are also exposed to the byproducts, which are just as dangerous and deadly. Sadly, in-home meth labs often store meth chemicals in 2-liter soft drink bottles, which small kids have been reported to mistake for a cola or other beverage. There have been reports of children drinking these containers, leading to immediate death. Small children have also often been found with meth powder on their clothing and bare feet.
Even in homes that were used to cook meth only once or twice are equally as dangerous as homes that are used daily to cook the drug. Even after what is thought to be a thorough cleaning, residues have even been found on eating utensils and dishes.
Children of meth-addicts and “cooks” are often neglected due to the parent using, binging, and crashing for days on end. Exposure to Meth can result in various health problems, including, but not limited to, brain damage, kidney failure, liver and spleen damage, respiratory problems, birth defects, and death.
Possible Death by Explosion: Is the High Worth It?
Fires and explosions are common in meth labs, whether they are home-labs or vehicular labs. The combination of highly toxic compounds, many of which are flammable, interact with high heat while they cook on the stove. The shake and bake method increases the risk of an explosion due to the pressure of the ingredients in a 2-liter plastic bottle. As a result, this combination can create explosions or fires. The end result may injure or kill nearby individuals. It is not uncommon for people to be killed during the meth-making process. People who have survived explosions sometimes have lost limbs or sustained severe scarring in their face or other visible areas.
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Recognizing Meth Abuse
Meth is widely available in several forms, most commonly either crystal or a white odorless power which can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken by mouth. Uniquely, meth alters the user’s mood differently depending on the method of administration. People taking the stimulant seek the chemical for its ability to produce positive, euphoric highs, but may also experience:
- Appetite loss
- Extreme aging
- Dramatic weight loss
- Dental damage
- Hyper alertness and excitability
- Skin rashes
- Engaging in hazardous behaviors
- Erratic or bizarre behavior
- Neglecting professional, academic, or personal responsibilities
- Social or interpersonal problems
- Financial difficulties
- Disappearing for long periods of time
- No longer participating in former passtimes
- Isolating behavior
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Extreme fluctuation in energy levels
- Severe mood swings
- Irritation, agitation, and aggression
- Obsessive behaviors
Also called crystal meth, the synthetic drug is one of the most addictive substances in the United States. People can become hooked after only one use. Due to the highly addictive rate of meth abuse, individuals who use the drug can easily binge on meth, fueling their substance abuse disorder.
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If you or someone you love is involved in operating meth labs, it is highly advisable to seek treatment immediately. The long term medical, financial, and legal consequences of the meth-making process can destroy entire families. Contact a treatment provider now to find out more about what rehab options are available to you.