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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Meth lab training, processing workshop an eye-opening experience

Meth lab training, processing workshop an eye-opening experience

The world’s most addictive substance was invented by the Japanese more than 65 years ago. Nearly two percent of the Japanese people were habitual users of the man made substance during and after World War II. Kamikaze pilots used it religiously. Hitler adopted it as well, and his Nazi regime made it part of their daily routine.

Today, crystal methamphetamine is more widespread and prevalent than ever.

Methamphetamine Hydrochloride has a few common names – tina, speed, crystal, ice, crank, meth or yaba. Regardless of what it’s called, more than 90 percent of those who try this menacing substance become addicted immediately.

Meth is a form of speed similar to cocaine, but its effects last way, way longer. One ‘hit’ of cocaine lasts 2 to 4 hours whereas a typical high from the same amount of meth can last 6 to 12 hours.

Using meth comes with horrific side effects including but not limited to malnutrition, anxiety, insomnia/sleep deprivation, hallucinations, paranoia, uncontrolled rage/violence, cardiac arrhythmias and even strokes.

Meth making recipes use easily obtained substances including acids, bases, reactive metals, solvents, and oxidizers which are readily found in most homes or on the shelves of hardware stores and pharmacies. Most of these ingredients are hazardous alone and even more so when combined.

Making meth is a risky business that can result in explosions, fires and the release of toxic and/or corrosive gases that spew out into the air accompanied by horrible odors. Meth cooks, however, don’t often consider the production process or the slew of harmful substances making meth creates. First responders tasked with cleaning up the lab’s horrendous after effects do in fact care for their safety as well as the safety of the community and environment.

On Friday, August 8, a week-long training session at the Lafourche Fire District #3 station ended with ‘real-world’ scenarios in which meth labs were safely and properly processed by 33 different first responders from various agencies and several parishes.

First responders with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, Houma Police Department, Lafourche Parish Fire District #3, Bourg Volunteer Fire Department and the Montegut Fire Department participated in the weeklong course conducted by MERIT, the Methamphetamine Recognition and Investigation Training.

“It’s important that these multiple agencies train together,” says Jake Kelton, President and CEO of MERIT, which has offices in Mississippi and Pennsylvania. “It takes multiple agencies to respond to and process a meth lab,” he added. “Firefighters are usually the first on scene, followed by law enforcement as well as EMS,” he says.

Every meth lab is both a crime scene and potential explosion/fire. This multi-agency approach saves communities thousands of dollars and helps saves lives.

“Local fire departments process the hazards of the labs because they have the proper protective gear,” Kelton stated. “This saves local law enforcement agencies from having to purchase the same type of equipment. They (fire, EMS and police) always work a scene in conjunction, so sharing resources, training and tactics makes sense,” he added.

First responders get certified yearly with nearly 40 hours of classroom instruction.

“All participants in the MERIT course can identify and classify a meth lab within 30 seconds,” says Kelton. “The test is both hard and rigorous. All 33 participants this week scored a 95% or above on the written exam,” he added.

Kelton travels across the country conducting the weeklong, eight-hour per day class consisting of lectures, testing and training in 36 states. He conducts some 20 training sessions yearly nationwide.
Meth production and the dangers associated with processing the meth lab’s hazardous chemical after effects are a national problem.

“Nearly 50% of all burn victims in Missouri’s burn wards are products of meth lab explosions,” says Kelton.

According to Kelton, Louisiana is one of the most proactive states training first responders in the proper procedures for processing meth labs, and with good reason. According to Brennan Matherne, Public Information

Officer with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, “There has definitely been a rise among meth-use arrests and meth labs found in our parish, especially within the last five years.”

The Lafourche Parish Combined Meth Lab Response Team was formed specifically to combat the proliferation of these clandestine, or hidden, meth labs in our area.

“Narcotics agents, the Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, area firefighters and emergency medical services comprise the team tasked with responding to and processing meth labs found in Lafourche Parish,” Matherne added.

The training provided as part of the MERIT scenarios included three of the four types of meth production set ups – a Phenyl-2-Propanone lab, a red phosphorus lab and a Nazi lab (named for the techniques developed during WWII).

“The three scenarios set up…it’s all real out there,” says Kelton.

Two of the labs were set up in structures otherwise used for fire training scenarios. The third and final lab was set up in an automobile because, yes, people do attempt to cook meth in an automobile.

Sergeant Adam Dufrene with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office is the department’s foremost authority on all things meth. He understands the dangers associated with meth labs.

“In one pot, you can make a batch of meth in an hour to an hour and a half,” he says.
Processing a meth lab requires the use of hazmat suits, oxygen tanks, dozens of first responders and six to eight to even 12 hours.

“The after effects of meth production are so toxic and can linger for years within a structure,” he said.

It’s clear to see why proactive steps, proper processing and continued training are needed by first responders who are tasked with combating the problem.

“The DEQ maintains a list of all addresses and the buildings on them used to make meth state-by-state,” says Dufrene. “Full disclosure is required when selling properties listed with the DEQ,” he added.

In Lafourche Parish there have been numerous properties used to make meth, one of which was an automobile. Even an explosion in such a confined space as a small car can wreak havoc on a neighborhood if it were to explode.

After an expensive remediation process, former meth labs are inspected and cleared by the DEQ and subsequently removed from the list, deeming them safe to once again occupy. Sergeant Dufrene offers advice on entering a structure that has been used as meth lab.

“I tell people I wouldn’t enter…ever…never,” he states emphatically. “It’s just too hazardous and dangerous.”
First responders completing the MERIT training are able to immediately identify the four types of meth labs, articulate the processes/items used and immediately know the hazards. Knowing this helps them to safeguard the health and welfare of the public as well as other first-responder team members.

This is certainly a proactive, safe, common sense approach in combating such a prevalent, wide spread problem.

“More education, public education and understanding the dangers of meth production is something we are certainly focusing on to combat this epidemic,” added Dufrene.

 Photo courtesy of Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office.