By Ben Winslow
The Deseret Morning News
Meth lab indicators and officer safety
OREM, Utah — The towel reeked of sweat and ammonia.
That is what police officers who come to this nondescript clinic purge from their bodies while undergoing treatment for exposure to chemicals found in methamphetamine labs.
"You literally sweat these things out of your body," Weber County sheriff's deputy Mike Wells said Tuesday. "I had stuff coming out through my eyes. They'd burn, and at night, I'd have pieces of stuff in my eyes."
Tip: 12 Meth DONT's
With PoliceOne Editor Scott Buhrmaster
If you encounter a meth lab or meth-making materials, DO NOT:
Jiggle, swirl or mix
Throw light switches
Unplug or plug in
Rub your eyes, nose or mouth
Forget about guard dogs, booby traps or look-outs
Stick around longer than you have to
Hesitate to call the hazmat crew
The Bio-Cleansing Centers of America has opened a facility here that caters to police officers who have spent years battling Utah's methamphetamine problem and are beginning to pay for it with their lives. Officers have reported lung problems, chronic headaches, difficulty sleeping, acid reflux and joint pain, among other ailments. Some have reported bizarre cancers.
Police who battled the meth epidemic in the late 1990s are reporting the most symptoms. The American Detoxification Foundation's Sandra Lucas said she has a list of 100 police officers suffering from the problems.
A former South Jordan police sergeant, who asked not to be identified because he still works undercover, has been going into meth labs for years.
"I've had high exposure to labs," he said. "I had a vent bag blow up in my face and high exposure to chemicals."
After suffering from severe sleep problems, blurred vision, liver problems and shortness of breath, it was another police officer who referred him to the clinic. Tuesday was his first day.
"I've been on vitamins for six weeks," he said. "Any medications they want you off of."
The program works in three steps: exercise, nutrition and supplements, and sweating. The clinic offers a sauna in which officers spend hours just sweating out the toxic chemicals in their bodies. For a SWAT team officer, the 43 days he spent undergoing the detox program was "challenging."
"It's a little bit strange, and I was skeptical of it working," the undercover SWAT officer said.
His medical doctors took a look at his symptoms and prescribed antidepressants that wouldn't help, he said. After another officer told him about the clinic, he came here.
"I feel great now," he said.
The genesis of the Utah Meth Cops Project came with a conversation Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff had with Lucas. She said the same program is being used to treat rescue workers with medical problems stemming from the 9/11 terror attacks and their exposure at ground zero.
"These officers didn't always know the consequences to their health when they shut down meth labs," Shurtleff said.
The Bio-Cleansing Centers of America's facility in Orem was, until a few months ago, a drug treatment center. The Utah Attorney General's Office paid $50,000 to send a group of officers through the detox clinic. Because studies are still under way to determine if meth exposure is the root cause of the sicknesses, worker's compensation isn't covering these expenses.
Shurtleff said he has asked for $140,000 from the governor to send even more officers through the program, but it likely will find success through word of mouth.
"Police officers believe police officers," Lucas said.
Deputy Wells says he's better because of the program, which he completed in 38 days.
"I haven't had a headache for four weeks," he said. "There have been no muscle spasms for a couple of weeks."
Copyright 2007 Deseret Morning News
Utah police detox at clinic for exposure to meth