WOOSTER -- In the past calendar year, law enforcement has had its hands full combatting meth labs across Wayne County and the city.
Don Hall, senior agent at Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, has chased those who manufacture the toxic drug and trained in ways to combat their effects.
"We set a record number of meth labs last year," he said of Medway's efforts across the county. Last year, Hall went to the DEA Academy to learn best practices for dismantling mobile meth labs. While at the academy he even learned how to make meth. He is one of four people in Wayne County certified to clean up the sites.
Wayne County had 24 meth labs, Hall said, all of which were the "one-pot" meth labs made typically in two-liter plastic bottles. These mobile meth labs also are referred to as the "shake and bake" method.
Hall said there were 17 meth labs in 2010 in Wayne County and three in 2011.
There was such an increase in meth activity locally, and nationally, Drug Enforcement Agency funding for cleanup costs, which were slated to get axed from the budget, were kept in place.
Wooster had five of those meth labs in 2012.
"The city of Wooster saw a significant increase in methamphetamine production going from zero labs in 2011 to five labs in 2012," said Matt Fisher, police chief.
Because of the increase and the risks associated with meth production, the Wooster PD trained one officer in the proper disposal and clean up of meth production and will continue to work with Medway to combat this growing problem.
"It's a very simple procedure to make it, but it's very dangerous as well," he said.
Hall said recipes for how to make meth can be found online and all of its extremely toxic ingredients are available at hardware and retail stores. "It takes anywhere from 60-90 minutes to make and everything is at local retail outlets. ... It's not like a bunch of rocket scientists are needed to make the stuff."
Such chemicals as lithium, lye and muriatic acid and others are used in the process to make meth.
"The initial start-up costs are like $45," Hall said. "And you can get roughly four grams of product per bottle ... or about $400 per bottle."
Put another way, Hall said meth makers can essentially make $400 an hour.
He spent parts of last summer visiting police and fire departments to teach ways to identify an active and mobile meth lab as cleanups of meth lab sites are hazardous with sometimes painful and lasting side effects.
Meth and its production pose a tremendous risk to law enforcement and citizens alike.
"The making of meth involves some extremely caustic substances which can become very flammable causing a high risk of fire and explosion," Fisher noted. "In addition, the process of making meth can release a wide variety of toxic odors which can become an inhalation hazard. Because of these factors, meth labs are very dangerous to first responders and take an increasing large amount of resources to disassemble."
"With all the dangerous and flammable chemicals used in the process, people have no idea the impact it can have on the environment," Hall explained.
Clean-ups of meth can take six-eight hours and cost thousands of dollars. And once a location is neutralized, the chemicals need to be neutralized as well. He said by the summer a drop-off point should be established for the chemicals, most likely in Summit County.
For every pound of meth made, Hall said it creates roughly 10 pounds of chemical waste.
Hall noted he also has seen many meth labs where children are located. He said that makes him lose sleep some nights.
Dave Smith, executive director of Medway, said meth has been synthesized since the 1890s in some form. Until the recent fad of the "one-pot" method in plastic bottles, meth manufacturers used to employ the longer "two-pot" method that was more of a process and took several more hours.
Also called "red phosphorous" labs, the two-pot method had four steps compared to the two steps involved in a one-pot method.
"They are very mobile and can be carried in duffle bags or people can cook while they drive around in cars," Hall explained.
The side effects on the human body are also extreme. Hall said meth addicts can stay awake for six-eight days before they eventually crash. The drug also makes people paranoid, leads to grinding and rotting of teeth, and "meth bugs," which is described as an incessant scratching. It also leads people to crave sweets, cuts down on saliva production in their mouths, and smells like "cat urine," Hall noted.
Besides prescription drug abuse, he said meth is the largest drug epidemic in the area.
"There's just more people getting knowledge on how to make and cook it," in the area Hall said.
Reporter Steve Huszai can be reached at 330-287-1645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is @GeneralSmithie on Twitter.
By STEVEN F. HUSZAI Staff WriterPublished:February 28, 2013 4:00AM