by Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press
OAK GROVE, Ky. (AP) - Last November, a car ferrying a container of farm
fertilizer exploded along Interstate 24, backing up traffic for miles
through this southwest Kentucky community.
It was no farming accident. The fertilizer was anhydrous ammonia - a
ingredient in methamphetamine. The car turned out to be a rolling meth
Driven from their homes and motels, meth makers are increasingly taking
to America's roadways, mixing their bubbling brew in drug labs inside
tractor-trailers, rental trucks, cars and even motorcycles.
Meth cooks see them as a way to avoid detection. Trucking down the
highway allows them to disperse the rotten egg smell the labs produce and
keep the waste out of their own homes.
"If they're moving, it's easier to hide," said Lt. William Sparks,
spokesman for the Oak Grove Police Department.
Nationally, the number of labs found in vehicles increased from 869 in
1999 to 1,307 in 2001, and the number of vehicles found with chemicals or
equipment used to make meth increased from 30 in 1999 to 624 in 2001,
according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. But because there is no
mandatory reporting requirement, it is difficult to gauge the total number
of roving labs.
Washington state led the DEA rankings with 172 rolling meth labs. The
only other states with more than 100 were Missouri with 149 and Kansas with
Methamphetamine is a powerful drug that is often snorted or injected
makes users feel euphoric, energized and powerful. Addicts can go days
without sleep, and the drug's downside include irritability, paranoia,
aggression and violence.
It has become a popular new drug in recent years because it is so easy
produce - and conceal.
Typically, truckers hauling the meth labs or chemicals used to make the
drug are carrying the illegal items along with legal cargo, said Cheyenne
Albro, director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force in Hopkinsville.
It's the volatile nature of the chemicals used to prepare the drug that
makes the labs so dangerous. Nationally, one of every five meth labs is
discovered because of an explosion, Albro said.
Of the 2,000 chemicals available to make the drug, at least half are
explosive, Albro said. He estimates in western Kentucky, up to 20 percent
the meth labs are mobile.
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson, during a recent
stop in Lexington, said meth producers are being forced to come up with
innovative ways to hide their labs because law enforcement agencies are
aggressive in making arrests.
"That includes keeping them in the trunks of their cars, or in trucks
vans so they are more mobile and less easy to track," Hutchinson said.
Other meth makers do not want to contaminate their own homes with
meth-making residue and fumes.
"The chemicals are so dangerous, it gets into the walls and the curtains,
and people have poisoned their own families just to make a buck - if they
don't blow themselves up in the first place," said Sparks of the Oak Grove
In southern Indiana, a man was arrested recently for making meth on his
motorcycle. "Instead of beakers and Bunsen burners, they're using pop
bottles and Igloo coolers," said Brad Ellsworth, sheriff for Vanderburgh
About 20 students and staff members were evacuated in April from Westwood
Elementary School in New Castle, Ind., after officers stopped a pickup truck
driven by a suspected meth maker. Anhydrous ammonia was found in the back,
and officers reported strong ammonia fumes.
And in September in Utica, a small community in western Kentucky, 50
people were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night and seven
people hospitalized after anhydrous ammonia leaked into the air during a
botched attempt to steal a tank from a farm supply store.
Most meth cooks don't appear to know how to store the chemicals they
steal to make their drugs and they don't know how to use them, Sheriff
"They've got the high school chemistry 101 class and think they are
chemists," he said.