In the AMC series Breaking Bad, which brought the terrifying realities of meth into the homes of millions across the nation, a terminally ill and broke chemistry teacher partners with a former student to cook and sell high-quality meth. The first thing they do is buy a trailer: a large space they fill with complex lab equipment and drive into the middle of nowhere, to mask the odor given off by the battery acid, drain cleaner, lithium, ammonia and other highly toxic substances used in meth production. Things have gotten a lot easier than on the show.
“My way was developed to be quick and to not give off as much smell as other methods,” boasts one nameless blogger who posts step-by-step, detailed instructions on how to make meth using a two-liter soda bottle. “I still only recommend doing it if you have had previous experience making dope.”
Above the instructions on the Web page, a disclaimer states: “This material is for educational purposes only…to inform the general public of the materials and methods used in manufacturing this highly illegal substance.”
Various users explain potentially deadly procedures, some that are portable. In fact, one of the seven arrested in Operation Red Fusion was found with a meth lab in the back of his pickup truck. Writers promise the ultimate high, glossing over the very real and high risk of death from toxic fumes, chemical explosions and fires often ignited by amateur chemists mixing volatile chemicals while already under the influence of drugs.
In February, 52-year-old Brion Peters was found guilty of causing the fire that killed a 20-year-old woman in a rural upstate New York cabin being used as a meth lab. Kanisha Wood of Elmira was killed when a plastic pitcher containing liquid fuel exploded on a wood stove.
Between 2004 and 2011, 89 meth labs were reported in New York, according to the National Clandestine Laboratory Register, a federal database compiled by the DEA, containing addresses of some, but not all, locations where law enforcement agencies said they found chemicals or other items indicating the presence of either clandestine drug laboratories or dump sites. Currently there is no comprehensive method for tracking or listing former meth labs.
“Sooner or later, what happens is if you have a strong enough network of people who are using it, you’re going to have people who will say, ‘[Meth] is a cash crop, we should make it right here,’” says Reynolds.
And tracking those people is a whole other ball game. Since meth tends to be sold in tight circles or produced at home, law enforcement is often only tipped off when a lab explodes or a user turns violent, an all-too-common side effect of the highly addictive stimulant.