By JON GAMBRELL
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas police officers had seen leftover methamphetamine ingredients just like the mess they found in a suspected cook's trash can last month. What gave them pause this time were the packets of strawberry-flavored children's drink mix next to the bin.
It was among the officers' first encounters with "Strawberry Quick," the latest version of methamphetamine, a drug authorities say manufacturers are constantly remaking to keep their customer base growing.
From lollipops to high-sugar sodas, law enforcement officials say they've found meth cut with a variety of candies, drinks and other materials over the years. Officials say the "designer meth" can smooth the ingestion of the drug, making it easier for first-time users to try.
"It's really a bitter substance ... so if you're going to try to make it more consumable for the masses, then you're going to want to try to take that edge off whichever way you can," said Chris Harrison, chief illicit laboratory chemist at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory.
"Strawberry Quick" came to prominence in January, after the Nevada Department of Public Safety issued a bulletin describing the type of meth there, said Steve Robertson, a Washington-based spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA agents have since heard reports of flavored meth appearing in Missouri, Texas, Washington state and Wisconsin _ though Robertson stressed it was not a nationwide phenomenon.
"Traffickers are out there and are trying to sell it to customers, whether they are young customers or older, brand-new customers by changing the color or the taste or just giving it a less-intimidating name, they are trying to make it seem less dangerous and lure this new customer base," Robertson said. "If someone was completely terrified of trying it, it might diminish the threat."
"Strawberry Quick" uses powdered drink mix to give the drug a pink coloring. The sweetness of the powder can make meth more palatable and partially masks its harsh chemical taste.
Cutting the meth also may soften the burning sensation some have when snorting the powdered drug, Harrison said.
"It's a different spin, like a marketing thing," said William Bryant, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA's office in Little Rock.
Methamphetamine is found in powder and in a crystalized form similar to broken glass. Its low boiling point allows for it to be smoked or injected easily.
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Because of its chemical properties, meth easily mixes into any water-based liquid. Caffeinated, high-sugar energy drinks and sodas often litter areas where meth cookers manufacture the drug, sometimes used as a chaser to the stimulant, Harrison said.