Managing animals seized from methamphetamine laboratory busts (Proceedings)

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Managing animals seized from methamphetamine laboratory busts (Proceedings)

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Apr 01, 2010

Methamphetamine, also known as Meth, Speed, Ice, Crystal, Chalk, Crank, Tweak, Uppers, Black Beauties, Glass, Bikers Coffee, Methlies Quick, Poor Man"s Cocaine, Chicken Feed, Shabu, Crystal Meth, Stove Top, Trash, Go-Fast, Yaba and Yellow Bam, is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant drug. Methamphetamine ranks third, behind alcohol and marijuana, in terms of drugs of abuse in the United States, particularly in the Midwestern and Western States.

One factor that may be involved in the popularity of methamphetamine use, besides its highly addictive nature, is the ease of manufacture. While large laboratories (super labs) in Mexico are considered the be source of much of the methamphetamine on the West coast, the majority of methamphetamine is "home grown," produced in either super labs or in relatively small clandestine laboratories (box labs) throughout the United States. These laboratories can be found in virtually any location, including rural areas, residential neighborhoods, commercial properties, and industrial districts. Clandestine laboratories have been found in private residences, hotels, motels, barns, farm outbuildings, outdoors, automobile trunks, boats and luggage.



Although the term "laboratory" may lead one to imagine a sterile, highly controlled environment, clandestine methamphetamine laboratories are more commonly disorganized, dirty, and highly contaminated by the large number of potentially toxic compounds that are used to produce the end product. The manufacture of methamphetamine is a relatively simple process, involving the use of readily available ingredients and equipment. Many of the chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are extremely hazardous (Figure 1), and approximately 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste is generated for each pound of methamphetamine produced. Methamphetamine laboratories are generally dangerous places, not only to those who produce the compound, but to others who may be living nearby as well as to law enforcement, firemen or individuals who may enter the area.

Very much like children of individuals who manufacture (and generally use) methamphetamine, animals in these environments be at risk for a variety of potential hazards. The risks from chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine include burns and injuries due to explosions and fires from highly volatile agents, breathing problems due to the inhalation of toxic vapors or gases, systemic effects of ingesting the precursor chemicals or the end product, and irritation or burns of the skin and or due to contact with corrosive chemicals such as acids. Chemicals spills onto flooring or the ground pose a particular hazard to free roaming pets, as they may walk through, lie in, and/or ingest the spilled materials. Mechanical injury from discarded syringes, razor blades or other hazards is also possible. Because many methamphetamine manufacturers are often addicted users, animals in the area may also be malnourished due to neglect and/or have evidence of physical abuse.

The types of animals that might be present in a clandestine laboratory during a raid by law enforcement include household pets, livestock, and captive-kept wild animals. Guard dogs are commonly utilized by methamphetamine manufacturers. Animal control officers responding to should be ready for anything: at a Massachusetts methamphetamine laboratory raid, police found alligators guarding the residence!

Seizure of animals during a methamphetamine laboratory raid must be done with care, as the animals themselves may be contaminated and pose a health hazard to those that handle them. In an ideal situation, entry into the "hot zone" will be restricted to those specially trained and equipped to handle hazardous materials and the animals that are seized will be brought out to an area designated for initial decontamination. However, there will be times when animal control officers will be requested to enter the hot zone to remove animals. In these situations, personal safety becomes paramount, as you cannot help the animals if you yourself become injured or ill due to exposure to hazardous chemicals. At the very least protective eye, hand and foot covering should be used. If available, protective jumpsuits (e.g. Tyvek) should also be worn. If toxic fumes are suspected or detected, only professionals possessing suitable respirators should enter the area.