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by Detective Scott Purcell

In the mid to late 80's a new more powerful drug rose to prominence in the western United States, most notably California and more specifically Southern California. The new drug was methamphetamine, a stimulant. On the streets it is more commonly refrred to as simply "meth" or "speed". It's rise to prominence was based on 3 major factors:

1) The effects of the drug lasted much longer than another stimulant, Cocaine

2) It was cheaper to obtain. It is also referred to as the "poor mans cocaine"

3) It is synthetic or man made. This allows users or those that wish to sell it for
profit the opportunity to produce or manufacture the drug themselves.


Methamphetamine is a powerful crystal like synthetic stimulant whose effect on the central nervous system lasts up to 10 times longer than cocaine. while cocaine's effect can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 2-3 hours, methamphetamine can last for up to 12 hours or longer. Being that it is a stimulant much like cocaine, users will experience or display many similar symptoms of the drugs effect. Restlessness, agitation, rapid speech, dilated (large) pupils that do not respond to changes in light and increased heart rate (up to 140 beats per minute) are commonly exhibited by those under the influence of the drug.


Methamphetamine can be ingested in many different forms. Injection into a vein, snorting or smoking are the most common methods, with smoking the most prevelant. One who smokes the drug places a small amount of the powder into a clear glass tube that is round or bulbous at one end. The user heats the powder in the bulb with a heat sourch such as a lighter or small butane torch. The heat causes the powder to fill the tube up with a white smoke that is inhaled by the user.


Of particular concern to law enforcement officials is the manfacturing or making of methamphetmine. As mentioned before, meth is a synthetic product that can be made with the assistance of numerous household products. Some of thses products include; Red Devil Lye (used to unclog drains), lighter fluid, muriatic acid (used in swimming pools), denatured alcohol and distilled water.

Other ingredients are neccessary and harder to obtain. Items such as Iodine Crystals (used by veterinarians) and Red Phosporous ( a highly toxic/combustable substance used in fireworks and in certain military ordinace).

However, the prime ingredient is ephedrine. Ephedrine is the main ingredient in cold tablets like Sudafed or Actifed. If a "cook", as manufacturers are called, cannot purchase ephedrine either legally or illegally, they will resort to buying or stealing large amounts of the cold tablets from stores that stock these products. Some cities in Southern California had passed laws limiting the number of boxes of cold tablets a customer can purchase. In addition, most stores will secure the boxes of cold tablets to prevent theft.                                                                                                                           
Once the "cook" has his cold tablets, he then has to seperate the ephedrine from the binder (ingredients holding the tablet together and other inert ingredients). Once done he has his ephedrine and can start the manufacturing process. The process can take up to 12 or more depending on the amount of meth desired or the process used.

The reason the manufacturing of meth is of such concern to law enforcement and other public safety officials is due in part to the extreme volatile and unstable chemical chnages that occur during the mixing of the ingredients. It is not at all uncommon for explosions to occur during a "cook". These explosions have criticallly injured and killed many in the last few years. Quite often, innocents are caught up in this diabolical mess. In the early 90's in Riverside County, Calif. a woman and her male friends were manufacturing meth in her mobile home. An explosion took place, killing the womans young children.

In summation, while meth is very similar to cocaine, the aspect of major concern is the manufacturing of the drug. It is cheaper, lasts longer and can be made at home. Furture articles will discuss what to look for if you suspect that manufacturing is taking place in your neighborhood and the types of household items/appliances used.

Scott Purcell is a Detective with the Covina, California Police Department. Throughout his long and distinguished career Detective Purcell has observed first hand the effects that drugs have had on his community. He has been involved in several major investigations involving the manufacture and sale of Methamphetamine.

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