What's Cookin' Next Door

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It is a problem that has plagued Michigan for years. Labs containing the dangerous chemicals needed to make crystal meth that are found in the most innocent places, like garages, basements, bedrooms and attics.

According to data from the Michigan State Police, there were 553 meth incidents reported in Michigan in 2012, up from 525 in 2011. However, for every meth lab that is found, there are plenty of others that have not been detected.

"Like any criminal activity, what's reported or what's detected is certainly less than what's actual so I certainly couldn't guess as to what percentage of these cases we're actually finding," said Lt. Tim Gill, who is in charge of drug task forces in six Michigan counties.

It's a scary thought for law enforcement, since they often only find these labs after they have caught fire and exploded.

"A lot of the components are nasty chemicals that you need to be careful with individually, let alone when you put them together or apply heat to them," said Jackson County Sheriff, Steve Rand.

Even scarier is the fact that many of these labs are found in neighborhoods where homes are close together, making an explosion dangerous for not only those who make the drug, but those who are completely innocent.

"I've seen the damage it has caused, including death," said Larry Leach, of Drug and Lab Disposal, the company responsible for disposing of all meth labs found in Michigan. "It's blown garage doors off the hinges. I've had a bathroom that I've responded to and the bathroom door was completely blown off."

So, why do people continue to make meth if it's so dangerous?

For one, the components to make meth -- Sudafed, fuels and acids -- are easy to get.

"Lowe's, Meijer, Walmart," said Lt. David Cook, of the Jackson Narcotics Enforcement Team. "Pretty much any hardware store that carries any type of solvents, paint thinners, camping supplies."

There is also another reason.

"The meth cooks are creative. They're continuously looking for different ways and different items to separate their meth from other meth cooks," said Leach.

Enter, the 'one-pot method', which represents roughly 99 percent of meth labs found.

The small size of the one-pot method, just a couple of plastic bottles, allows the drug to be made almost anywhere, including vehicles.
Although meth labs still remain popular in most Michigan counties, many are seeing numbers jump around over the last several things.

"The methamphetamine map basically comes to us in a spreadsheet form," said Scott Ambs, who tracks meth cases with the Jackson County Geographic Information System. "We track the labs, we track the dumpsites. If it is a lab, we track whether it has been cleaned or not."

Starting in 2000, the map showed ten incidents across Jackson County. Two years later, ten more. 2003 saw the most reported incidents with 37. In the years following, the number jumped with 28 cases in 2004, 13 in 2006, 2011 had 21, but 2012 only saw three.

The labs have been found in all types of homes, in all types of areas. It proves you can never truly know what you're living next door to. Lt. Cook says that's probably how it will stay.

"Just like any other drug, you'll never truly stop it," said Cook.

That's why it's important to pay attention to your neighbors because it may ensure your safety.

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