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Police turn up heat on meth labs

| Saturday, July 17, 2004

State police want people to know the key elements of a meth lab -- including coffee filters, brake cleaner, blenders and, of course, duct tape.

Desperate to slow production of methamphetamine, state police on Friday turned to the public for help, introducing a poster that features products and equipment used to make the illegal stimulant. Authorities intend to distribute the posters to schools, churches and stores.

So far this year, troopers have turned up 77 methamphetamine laboratories statewide, compared with 64 in 2003. That has prompted police to step up efforts to track down makers of the drug, who frequently use makeshift labs in apartments or hotel rooms, even cars.

"This is such a big problem, we wanted to try a different avenue," said Trooper Linette Quinn, a state police spokeswoman. "We're trying to do everything we can."

The chemicals and process used to make methamphetamine are so volatile that specially trained teams are needed to dispose of the labs. The makings of the lab frequently are small enough to fit into a box or backpack.

The drug causes hallucinations and is made in a variety of forms -- pills, powder or crystal -- to be taken orally or snorted. Using meth can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure and may result in death.

Products used to make methamphetamine include cold tablets containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, rubbing alcohol, brake cleaners, lithium batteries and fertilizer. Equipment includes hot plates, jugs or bottles, funnels, aluminum foil, thermometers and strainers.

The production of one pound of meth releases poisonous gas into the atmosphere and creates 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In Pennsylvania, methamphetamine is most popular in the northeast and northwest, authorities said. However, police in recent years have found labs in the Pittsburgh area -- including Mt. Washington, Brighton Heights, Stowe and Heidelberg.

"It's inexpensive to make, cheap to sell and it's highly addictive," Quinn said. "The numbers of people using are going through the roof."

Gateway Rehabilitation officials have noticed a slight increase in meth use during recent months, said Medical Director Neil Capretto. Capretto said he has treated about a dozen meth users since March. The local drug of choice, he said, remains heroin.

Capretto hopes the poster will make more people aware of the meth problem.

"Anything you can do to raise awareness is good," he said.

Copies of the poster may be obtained by calling the state police at (717) 783-8514.

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