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March 2, 2014

Meth labs go under the radar

ELIZABETHTOWN — Methamphetamine labs are easy to find if you know what to look for.

To teach public officials and first responders what those signs are, police and emergency-services representatives have been holding meetings to discuss the situation and show PowerPoint presentations of the steps that go into making the illegal drug.

State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Fire Protection Specialist Victor Graves has been speaking to fire companies and emergency-medical personnel, while State Police Sgt. Chad Niles has been briefing public officials and highway workers on how to recognize a clandestine drug lab.

“Chad has been very helpful to many public officials, including myself,” Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague told the County Board of Supervisors and others gathered for a recent session. “(Meth production is) a very dangerous situation for the people within your community.”

VOLATILE COMBINATION

People acting strangely and buying or disposing of certain items — like Sudafed packs and Coleman Fuel containers — are now very conspicuous, Niles said.

“I think we’ve had an impact. It’s more difficult for these people to engage in that kind of behavior. They have to do it a lot farther under the radar.”

In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, two meth labs were found in Essex County, five in Clinton and one in Hamilton.

But police believe there are many more methamphetamine-making operations underway, Niles said.

And drug users need only assemble a volatile combination of household items to get started.

“You can’t make meth without this: The base product is pseudoephedrine or ephedrine,” Niles said.

RESTRICTED BY LAW

Pseudoephedrine is simply another configuration of ephedrine.

The products are sold under different brand names as oral nasal decongestants and have a valid use in relief from cold or flu symptoms. 

In 2005, federal legislation was passed limiting ephedrine and pseudoephedrine sales per person to 3.6 grams a day (two boxes) or nine grams a month, and requiring buyers to show a photo ID, and stores to keep a record of sales.

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