By LAUREN GENTILE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Meth labs are a growing and dangerous problem in Michigan, with more than 400 cases tallied by the State Police this year.
“The incidents we have numbers for are just ones that the State Police have handled, so the number could be much higher,” Shanon Banner, public affairs manager for the State Police, said. “These incidents include busting a meth lab, finding a vacant lab, finding containers used to store or create the drug and even finding dumpsites.”
Meth is a synthetic stimulant created from pseudoephedrine and a number of toxic chemicals that affects the central nervous system through smoking, snorting, injecting or swallowing the drug.
Meth was first discovered in Michigan in 1996 and has been an escalating problem since then, Banner said.
“As soon we try and get it in control, another spike will happen and more cases will appear.”
Detective Sgt. Lonnie Palmer of the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department said he would like to eradicate meth in the county.
“That is a lofty goal, but we are working diligently to get it out,” Palmer said.
Palmer works with the SCAN — the St. Joseph County Area Narcotics Unit — which busts two to three meth labs per week
“Meth is dangerous. SCAN is very proactive. We now investigate and monitor lots of drugs and chemicals to catch meth producers,” he said.
Palmer said he believes there are a higher number of reported meth cases in St. Joseph County since SCAN began intensive investigationss.
“I know there are a lot of cases, but we try to publicize it and show that SCAN will take down meth producers and dealers,” he said.
Palmer and fellow officers monitor sales of pseudoephedrine, acetone, lithium batteries and some acids to catch meth producers before production even begins.
“Our goal is stop the creation before it starts. Now with the one-pot method and shake-and-bake method, these dealers are putting their neighbors and families at risk,” Palmer said.
In the shake-and-bake and one-pot method, producers make meth on their stovetop by mixing all the ingredients in one pot. Then once it is cooked, they flip the container to get the reaction needed to crystalize the substance. These methods are dangerous, according to Palmer, and flipping the pot can lead to explosions.
SCAN recently expanded its team to include two more officers, four new cars and enhanced public information to help eliminate the problem. The county plans to give $103,000 to SCAN over the next three years.
Timothy Gill of the Tri-County Drug Task Force said Lansing has seen at least three meth lab fires in the last six months.
“We have to get a handle on this,” Gill said. “The problem is the stricter the legislation makes it to get a hold of the drug components, the more loopholes they find in the legislation to get around it.”
The State Police director, Kriste Etue, said her department, along with drug task forces across the state, are trying to make clean-up of labs more cost-effective.
“We have come up with a new container system that is available for use,” she said.
Drug teams now bring meth-ridden materials to a State Police location for storage and disposal. The department has 35 large containers, and eight are full.
By LAUREN GENTILE