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Officers learn how to dissect meth labs

As the number of methamphetamine labs continues to grow, more training is needed for stopping the escalating drug problem.

Instructors from Network Environmental Systems, Inc. of California are at the West Virginia State Police Academy this week training law enforcement officers from throughout the state on the proper procedures for dissecting and processing meth labs.

NES is a professional environmental health and safety training and consulting company. The classes are being funded through a Criminal Justice grant.

Sgt. M.T. Smith, of the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said the meth problem has steadily increased throughout the state as more people have learned to make the drug quickly with materials that are readily available.

"They have learned how to cook it in one pot in one hour," he said. "It once took a whole day. A whole lot of people have been educated on how to cook it and it has been catching on."

As a result, law enforcement officers are spending lots of time dealing with the problem that is dangerous as well as expensive.

Undergoing this week's training sessions are 39 police officers from throughout West Virginia. Of these 15 are state troopers and the rest are city and county law enforcement officials.

Classes include different methods of making meth as well as how to dismantle a lab. Participants are to be fitted with proper safety equipment including masks and suits for dealing with hazardous materials.

Statistics show that 286 methamphetamine labs were discovered in the state in 2012. So far this year, 123 have been found.

Smith said the average cost of one meth lab is $250,000, including the entire process from discovery by police and cleanup to the judicial process and incarceration. Manpower and materials for cleaning a site runs about $2,800 of that amount.

Smith, who has interviewed hundreds of people who have used drugs, said meth and other substances can consume one's life.

Things people once enjoyed such as hobbies or time with family are no longer valued, he said. Instead, there is an all-consuming craving for the drug and the euphoric feeling it produces.

The craving is so overpowering that the person using the drug ignores the negatives - destruction of family, loss of job, and incarceration. Short-term health effects may include sleeplessness, hallucinations, and paranoia, he said. While long-term health effects are unknown, exposure to a carcinogen can lead to cancer, he said.

Those who stop taking drugs may face a long and drawn-out process. While the first 72 hours is the peak withdrawal period, the craving could continue for years, he said.

He notes that the real meth victims are often children in the home who are exposed on a daily basis.

Also, materials to make meth can be contained in something as small as a backpack and labs set up in anything from a vehicle to a hotel where innocent people may be exposed.

Training for law enforcement officers will continue this week culminating in an extensive written test for completion of the meth lab certification class.

More classes are needed as the meth problem has continued to surface in new areas where authorities are not trained in how to deal with it, Smith said.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.


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