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“Shake-and-bake” meth making has a dangerous side

Star-telegram.com, September 9, 2013

It is called “shake and bake,” a mobile method for making methamphetamine that is sweeping across the South and Midwest.

A more appropriate name might be “ticking time bomb” because of its explosive nature.

“It’s a really insane method of doing it,” said Jeff Moore, executive director of the sheriffs’ association in South Carolina, a hotbed for the portable meth labs. “Either you cook it and you get meth or it blows up and you get burned.”

Local law and drug enforcement authorities say evidence suggests that the latter is what happened last month when a flash fire in a car seriously burned five people in Lake Worth.

The burn victims were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, but their conditions were not available.

“We know who they are,” Lake Worth officer Don Price said.

The five face drug and arson charges in the case, Price said.

Agents with the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit received information that one of the car’s occupants was in a back seat shaking a 2-liter bottle containing the toxic ingredients that could make meth, officials said. Authorities are testing samples and charred debris found in the burned-out car, but results are not yet available.

While the Lake Worth case shows that the shake-and-bake method has apparently made its way to North Texas, local drug enforcement officials say the portable process is much more popular in the Midwestern and Southern states.

North Texas users still get most of their meth, which provides users with a rush of energy and maniclike alertness, from Mexico, authorities say.

Shake-and-bake meth is made by combining unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle and shaking it. But one tiny mistake can create an explosion, and the potential for disaster isn’t reserved just for those making the drugs.

National incidents in the past two years include:

• A man in Robards, Ind., escaped serious injury in May when he was mowing his property and his tractor ran over active “shake and bake” bottles, causing two explosions.

• In April 2012, a 54-year-old Oklahoma man suffered burns when a portable meth lab exploded in his pants as he scuffled with a state trooper.

• A 36-year-old Florida man died in January 2012 when a “shake and bake” bottle exploded in his car, causing him to crash.

The element of danger is one reason that a course on the new method is being taught this month at a law enforcement seminar in Fort Worth.

“It’s going to provide information for officers’ safety when coming upon one of those bottles,” said Herschel Tebay, commander of the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit. “We don’t see many of those portable meth labs here, but we have to be careful with them when we do.”

‘It’s very toxic’

North Texas is a national distribution center for illicit drugs because of its transportation and financial infrastructure and its proximity to Mexico, authorities say. Powder cocaine, commercial grade marijuana, black tar heroin and wholesale quantities of methamphetamine arrive here from suppliers.

In 2012, the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program conducted 72 seizures and confiscated meth and ice meth valued at $8.9 million.

This year, there have been 80 seizures worth $6.1 million. The agency, which covers 15 North Texas counties and six in Oklahoma, coordinates drug control among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“We see quite a few of those shake-and-bake labs in the Tulsa area,” said Lance Sumpter, director of the North Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas. “It’s very toxic and presents quite a danger to cookers, users, officers and anyone around it.”

Before Mexico became a meth pipeline, North Texas meth cookers needed hundreds of pseudoephedrine pills (decongestants), containers heated over open flames, numerous glassware pieces and cans of flammable liquids. The labs took up lots of space and created foul odors, local law enforcement officials said.

Dozens of these types of labs — much less sophisticated than those portrayed in the popular TV series Breaking Bad — existed in North Texas and nationwide.

The Methamphetamine Reduction Act in 2005 drastically cut down the number of labs, because it restricts the sale of large quantities of over-the-counter decongestants, cold and allergy medicines.

So in recent years, cookers have turned to “one pot” or “shake-and-bake” meth production.

Burns are common

The shake-and-bake method requires only a few pseudoephedrine pills, some household chemicals and a 2-liter bottle, all of which can be carried in a backpack. Ingredients are mixed in the bottle and eventually poured through a coffee filter and dried.

Explosions could occur almost anytime during the process, experts say.

“At some point, someone has to ‘burp’ the bottle or loosen the cap to let out gas and if it isn’t done right, it’ll explode,” said Sgt. Erik Eidson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s drug and crime division.

Hospitals in the nation’s most active meth states showed that up to a third of patients in some burn units were hurt while making meth, and most were uninsured, according to a 2012 Associated Press survey. Injuries ranged from seared flesh to blindness.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Missouri had 1,825 meth incidents last year, followed by 1,585 in Tennessee and 1,429 in Indiana. Texas had 32. Most of the meth incidents involved the shake-and-bake method, law enforcement officials said.

“There’s always a few here and there in this area,” said Terri Wyatt, a DEA agent in Dallas.