New method makes meth more mobile

After years of steady declines, methamphetamine production in Douglas County soon could rise, thanks to a new way to create the addictive drug.

“The days of meth cooks needing large and elaborate facilities to cook their toxic drug are gone,” District Attorney Charles Branson said. “Meth cooks now have a new ‘shake and bake’ method of cooking their drug.”

Using the “shake and bake” method, cooks can make meth in about 30 minutes by shaking together cold pills and toxic chemicals in a two-liter soda bottle. Older methods require a hard-to-conceal lab and hours to heat the ingredients. The new method can be done in a car, and the remnants from the process often are tossed out on the side of the road.

Those remnants are popping up in communities across the country, including Kansas, state law enforcement officials said. Douglas County’s chief prosecutor said it’s only a matter of time before signs of mobile meth labs will start showing up locally, as well.

“The mobility of this new method will mean we will see more evidence of meth production in Douglas County,” Branson said. “The criminal can carry these things in a backpack and create the drug on the run.”

Traditional meth labs have been fairly rare in Douglas County. A lab discovered by a hiker last month in a wooded area near Lawrence’s Prairie Park School, 2711 S. Kensington Road, was the first reported lab seizure in the county this year, compared with at least 98 across the state, according to Kansas Bureau of Investigation statistics.

A total of seven labs were recorded in Douglas County between 2005 and 2008, compared with 808 across the state.

David Hutchings, a KBI special agent, said law enforcement officers throughout Kansas will likely begin seeing more criminals using the “shake and bake” method, also known as the one-pot method.

“We’ll start to see a few and then (meth cooks will) figure out how to do it and then word will get passed on and then we’ll start to see a lot more,” Hutchings said.

Criminals are using the new method to skirt laws restricting the purchase of cold and allergy medicines. Those laws are credited with creating a consistent decrease in meth lab seizures in Kansas since 2001, a year when the KBI said 847 seizure incidents were reported. Now only a few handfuls of cold pills are needed to make the drug, as compared with several packets needed in the past.

Trash from the mobile labs is hazardous, Branson said; the containers the meth is made in contain a poisonous brown and white residue and can explode.

“This method is so new, not everyone will recognize the warning signs if they would stumble across the remnants. I am particularly concerned about the hazard this new method poses to children,” Branson said. “I do not want a naturally curious child to pick up one of these discarded containers.”

Branson urged anyone who sees what might be a meth bottle to call authorities immediately, and to avoid handling the container. A hazardous materials team may be needed to clean up the mess.

Hutchings said the KBI would be working with lawmakers to do as much as possible to restrict access to ingredients used to make meth.