‘Shake-and-bake’|Danger up with new manufacturing method

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

Methamphetamine labs shut down in Warren County this year and nearly half in Vicksburg have been of the “shake-and-bake” variety, which authorities say use a process more dangerous than the already explosive full-scale labs.

A breakdown

Meth cases and arrests,       locally and statewide:

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Mississippi Bureau

of Narcotics

Meth-related cases: 519

Arrests:    635

Seized labs:    237

Warren County

and Vicksburg assists

Meth-related Cases:    15

Arrests:    24


Vicksburg Police

Cases:    4

Arrests:    8

Warren County

Cases:    11

Arrests:    23

Mississippi Bureau

of Narcotics

Meth-related cases:    444

Arrests:    606

Seized labs:    232

Warren County

and Vicksburg assists

Meth-related Cases:    7

Arrests:    12

Warren County sheriff’s deputies have led investigations in 11 meth labs so far in 2009 resulting in 23 arrests, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

Vicksburg police have made eight meth arrests this year, and three involved the shake-and-bake method of making the narcotic, Lt. Bobby Stewart said.

“It’s all over,” Stewart said. “Some places call it the ‘backpack lab.’ We’re seeing more of them pop up because it doesn’t take as many pseudoephedrine pills.”

The recipe calls for distilling the ingredient from over-the-counter cold medicines, which have been subjected to increasing sales limits and monitoring.

Compared to more traditional “labs,” shake-and-bake is more volatile because contents are shaken together in less specific amounts within the same container, Pace said.

If the mixture is not correct or the bottle is opened too soon, Stewart said, it can explode.

This process can also cause chemical pneumonia or death when anhydrous ammonia fumes produced during the chemical reaction are inhaled, Pace said.

An older method, easier to detect, involves using high temperatures and a longer distillation process.

Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics assisted Vicksburg and Warren County officials with 15 meth-related cases and 24 arrests in 2008, and seven meth-related cases and 12 arrests in 2009, MBN Director Marshall Fisher said. Some cases had multiple arrests.

Across the state, MBN seized 237 labs in 2008 and processed 519 meth-related cases. The bureau has seized 232 labs this year, five short of last year’s number, and has processed 444 meth cases, Fisher said.

“There are other law enforcement agencies in the city and county that have seized labs, Fisher said, adding to the state’s number of lab seizures.

The bureau has participated in 635 arrests in meth-related cases in 2008 and 606 arrests in meth-related cases in 2009 to date, Fisher said expecting to exceed 2008’s arrests.

In Mississippi, shake-and-bake labs allow meth makers to skirt House Bill 607, passed in July 2005 to restrict the purchase of pseudoephedrine to 3.6 grams per day and nine grams per month, he said.

“It’s a problem that’s not going away soon. It’s (House Bill 607) certainly not a silver bullet, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Fisher. “It was a crippling blow to these people for a while.”

In 2006, MBN saw a 70 percent drop in seized meth labs across the state, Fisher said. During that time, Pace said suppliers from Mexico were filling the demand gap for the highly addictive drug.

The new, quick process also cuts the risk of being detected. Meth can be “cooked” in motel rooms, pickups, hunting camps and good and bad neighborhoods, officials said. Rather than relying on a drug seller, users have “found they can use this method and make their own,” Stewart said.

Chemicals including drain cleaners with sulfuric acid, lithium battery strips and many others are shaken together with pseudoephedrine in a soda bottle yielding white crystals and a red sludge, Fisher said.

Another problem with the shake-and-bake method is leftover bottles containing toxic chemicals are discarded in the street, Stewart said. “It’s harmful to somebody if they came in contact,” not knowing what it is, he said.

Toxic byproducts are also poured down drains into sewers, leading to long-term effects in ground water and soil, Fisher said, putting the cost burden of cleanup on the taxpayer.

“Each pound of meth produced yields 5 to 6 pounds of waste,” he said. Only 2 or 3 grams of meth are produced at a time in most cases in the state.

In an effort to reduce the number of meth labs, Fisher said stores are required to keep logs of pseudoephedrine purchases. In cities around the country, purchases are being put into a database so businesses and law enforcement can share the information.

“MBN is going to propose legislation to require merchants to use a database where law enforcement can go through it to see who’s buying more than the legal amount,” Fisher said of Mississippi stores.

Now, law officials have to go to each store and look at handwritten logs, he said.

“We don’t want to put more burden on the merchants, but since they (the meth makers) have adapted, we have to adapt,” Fisher said.


Contact Tish Butts at tbutts@vicksburgpost.com