Methamphetamine Manufacturing on the Rise in Maine

By Jayna Smith

“Meth labs,” places where the illicit drug methamphetamine is manufactured, or “cooked,” are becoming all too common. The ingredients used in the manufacturing of the drug are commonly used and readily available.

According to Roy McKinney, Director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), preliminary methamphetamine manufacturing-related numbers for 2014 show there were 28 lab seizures and 8 dump sites. That's an increase from the 20 lab busts in Maine during 2013 and 14 in 2012.

“The discovery of clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine in Maine resembles nothing like the AMC show 'Breaking Bad,'” he said. That was proven last month when Code Enforcement Officer Tim Krug discovered a possible “meth lab” at a vacant trailer on Summer Street, just off Boardman Street. The site came to light while Krug was performing a routine check.

McKinney reported that all clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine seized by Maine law enforcement in 2014 was produced using the method commonly referred to as the “one-pot” or “shake and bake.” “This simple but dangerous method involves combining over-the-counter available products with pseudoephedrine in a single container, usually a soda bottle,” he explained.

Because these small-scale operations often use items such a soda bottles that can easily be transported, the bottles are often discarded on the side of the road, leaving toxic and/or flammable chemicals with them. These one-pot labs can be carried in bags, suitcases, backpacks, and can be located nearly anywhere, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

When a suspected lab or dump site is discovered, it is addressed as a crime scene. At that point, as was the case with the Calais suspected meth lab, the MDEA assumes the case. “The role of MDEA's Clandestine Lab Response Team is to plan, enter, assess, and process these crime scenes for evidence of methamphetamine manufacture,” McKinney said.

It is necessary for many agencies to work together upon the discovery of a suspected meth lab. “MDEA works in partnership with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Maine Department of Health and Human Services' Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory, and other appropriate agencies to ensure the safe seizure and processing of any suspected sites and to facilitate necessary environmental remedial action. This effort removes any identified gross contaminants,” McKinney explained. “Upon completion of scene processing, MDEA posts the premises as containing suspected hazardous materials. In addition, certified letters are sent to the property owner, DEP, and municipal code enforcement officer, or county commissioner when a municipality is unorganized.”

When evidence of manufacturing is found, McKinney said an investigation begins and the individual(s) responsible for the manufacturing is sought. “That evidence and any additional information learned regarding the felony offense is presented to the District Attorney or Attorney General for review.”

Costs associated with meth lab investigation can cost over $15,000 each to pay for MDEA teams, chemical protective gear, and hazmat teams from the Department of Environmental Protection. As well, local municipal costs for police, fire and EMT, and costs for the property owner can cost thousands of dollars, according to Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

The suspected meth lab discovered last month in Calais is still under investigation, Calais Police Chief Dave Randall reported. “Cases like these are becoming way too common in and around the Calais area. We will continue to work together with MDEA and do our best to identify and prosecute violators.”