Throughout many areas of the United States, methamphetamine production and use is on the rise. Tennessee has not escaped this dangerous and deadly epidemic. Methamphetamine lab seizures rose an astounding 76 percent in 2009 for the State of Tennessee over the previous year.
While Mexican drug trafficking organizations had been the main suppliers and distributors of methamphetamine throughout much of the country, domestic laboratories have sprung up across the United States. Methamphetamine labs, also known as meth labs, have expanded from the southwest region of the United States, across the country to the eastern section of the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, many methamphetamine labs are located in the rural areas of the Appalachians Mountains in eastern Tennessee.
According to Tommy Farmer, State Director for the Meth Task Force for the State of Tennessee, there were 1,437 meth lab seizures in 2009. Farmer added that Johnson County saw a decrease of ten percent from 2008, with nine meth lab seizures in 2009. According to Farmer, McMinn County had the largest number of meth lab seizures in 2009. McMinn County is located between Knoxville and Chattanooga. “I commend Tennessee in our approach,” said Farmer. He attributes the rise in seizures to better methods of determining lab locations and the intolerance that the public is building for this dangerous drug. Farmer added that Tennessee has an aggressive approach to the rising methamphetamine problems the state faces. Due to its physical location, Farmer added, “Tennessee is impacted greatly by other surrounding states.” According to Farmer, of the 1,437 meth lab seizures, 1,260 arrests were made.
Meth is made from common and easily obtainable chemicals. The Meth Free Tennessee Act of 2005 was implemented to limit the sale of pharmaceutical ingredients that are used in methamphetamine production. The purchase of over-the counter cold and sinus medications that contain pseudoephedrine have become limited and regulated. Purchases of any products such as Sudafed, Aleve Cough and Cold and Claritin-D contain pseudoephedrine. The Meth Free Tennessee Act of 2005 limits the amount per day and per month any individual can purchase. Customers must show picture identification and sign for their purchase. The names of all individuals who purchase any product containing pseudoephedrine are entered onto a log that is submitted every 30 days to the Meth Task Force. However, meth addicts and manufacturers often travel from pharmacy to pharmacy, often crossing state lines to obtain the maximum amount that they can purchase from each location. These individuals are referred to as “smurfs,” according to Farmer. The pseudoephedrine-containing medications are traded for meth or sold to the meth manufacturers.
While many methamphetamine labs are often set up in out-of-the-way, clandestine areas, new ways of producing meth have arisen. The most common is known as “shake and bake.” This method has increased in popularity not only in Tennessee, but across the nation. This methodology is faster than the traditional methods. However, it is extremely dangerous as the chemicals needed for this process are highly volatile, resulting in explosions. “Our burn units are bursting at the seams, “ said Farmer. At this time, “60 to 70 percent of lab seizures are shake and bake,” Farmer added.
Methamphetamine causes devastating effects upon users, their families and communities. Methamphetamine use destroys families and individuals. Communities with meth users often see an increase in burglaries and thefts as users look for ways to obtain money. Children of methamphetamine users often are abused and neglected. They become separated from their parents as they are placed in foster homes. The children who are living in or around meth labs can suffer brain damage from the devastating fumes. Residue left behind can cause chemical burns to anyone who comes in contact with meth production remains. Methamphetamine use during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, along with developmental and growth disorders.
For every pound of meth that is produced, five to six pounds of toxic waste remains. Left-over chemicals are often poured down drains or left on the ground. Some of these chemicals stay in the ground for many years. Byproducts of meth production are often left in open fields where they can be absorbed into crops and water sources. Residue from methamphetamine production is found on furniture, walls, air vents and eating surfaces. Production can be set up anywhere. Chemical smells are associated with recent meth production. Some of these smells include: ammonia, cat-urine odors, nail polish remover, bleach and drainer cleaner. According to Farmer, motel rooms are used as temporary meth labs. Leave the premises if you notice any chemical odors as meth residue may be present.
Methamphetamine has horrific effects upon the user’s body and mind, playing havoc with the central nervous system. Long-lasting brain damage can occur, including violent behavior, anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, confusion, aggression, irritability and seizures. Users experience an increased risk of brain damage, stroke, heart attack and a compromised immune system. Gums can turn black, known as “meth mouth.” Specific components in methamphetamine are acidic, causing rapid and often irreversible damage to teeth and gums. Bones become brittle, causing them to break easily. Users also lose weight rapidly, leading to malnutrition. Dependent on a variety of factors, the average life span of a methamphetamine addict is typically five to seven years.