It’s been years since I have written an article about a methamphetamine lab, and decades since I’ve written about what I would consider a full-blown, old-fashioned meth lab.
The last ones I reported on were what authorities described as one-pot or shake-and-bake labs.
Meth manufacturers began using this method about a decade ago after many cities, including Poplar Bluff, passed ordinances requiring a prescription for the purchase of pseudoephedrine-related products. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
The shake-and-bake labs were smaller, using an empty plastic soda bottle, and required fewer pseudoephedrine pills for the cooking process.
Manufacturers would use one to 10 boxes of pseudoephedrine pills in this method as compared to earlier cooks, who, when restrictions and limits weren’t in place, used substantially more pills.
The ingredients in the shake-and-bake method were the same as those used in the earlier methods requiring anhydrous ammonia, which had become difficult to obtain. Both the smell associated with and the theft of anhydrous ammonia upped the chances for manufacturers getting caught.
Along with the pills, chemicals also had to be purchased from local stores, including Liquid Fire (sulfuric acid), muriatic acid, alcohol, ether, Coleman camp fuel, salt, Red Devil lye, lithium batteries and instant cold packs containing ammonium nitrate.
In its heyday, merchants, as well as private citizens, were tipping off law enforcement when such purchases were made or the ingredients were spotted.
With all the scrutiny going on, eventually, even those labs went by the wayside as it was cheaper for users to buy their methamphetamine. There also was less exposure and risk of getting caught.
The result is what authorities described as an influx of crystal methamphetamine from manufacturing laboratories operated by drug cartels in Mexico.
Today’s importation is something that has come full circle.
I’ve reported for the Daily American Republic long enough to remember back to the mid-’90s when methamphetamine was imported into Southeast Missouri, long before the first local manufacturer cooked his first batch of meth.
So, imagine my surprise when the Butler County Sheriff’s Department recently discovered what Sheriff Mark Dobbs described as the “most complex” lab he had ever seen. It was found in the basement of a home on Moonstone Lane.
Authorities were not expecting to make such a discovery that afternoon.
They were there to conduct a wellness check on the three minor children living in the home, after reports of drug paraphernalia, firearms and unsanitary living conditions were made to the Missouri Children’s Division.
Based on the photographs I’ve seen, the set up looked like a very complicated chemistry lab.
It was way more advanced than anything I have ever seen in any of the hundreds of methamphetamine labs I’ve reported on over the years.
Authorities estimated there were probably 500 pieces of glassware and laboratory equipment in the room and 120 different chemicals that had to be disposed of.
The scale of the operation was such that the Drug Enforcement Administration contracted a hazardous-materials team to come in to clean up the lab.
Officers spent upwards of 40 hours processing the scene, and more than a dozen 55-gallon drums were filled with hazardous materials for disposal.
Although surprised by the magnitude of the lab and all its components, what I was not surprised by was the cooperation shown by the various agencies.
Once again, stepping up to lend a hand to the Butler County Sheriff’s Department were officers with the DEA and the Southeast Missouri Drug Task.
As they say, many hands make light work, and that was certainly the case here.
Friedrich can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .