Effects of Meth on a Community

Methamphetamine: More Than Just A Drug

Methamphetamine, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, causes harm to more than just the user. However, methamphetamine is unique in the extent to which the manufacturing process itself causes harm to neighbors, the environment, property values, and tragically, to innocent victims such as young children.

Environmental damage

Methamphetamine is fundamentally an adulterated mixture of pharmaceutical extracts with poisonous materials. The ingredients in methamphetamine are found in over-the-counter cold medicines and diet pills, household products like lithium camera batteries, matches, tincture of iodine, and hydrogen peroxide.

Flammable household products, including charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, and mineral spirits, are often used in the production process. Corrosive products, such as muriatic acid, sulfuric (battery) acid, and sodium hydroxide from lye-based drain cleaners, also may be used.

In rural areas where anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer, farmers are increasingly finding their ammonia tanks have been tapped by "cooks" using this highly toxic chemical to produce methamphetamine. These chemicals are not only flammable and corrosive – they are poison.

Any property owner whose rental has been converted into a toxic methamphetamine lab knows of the long, expensive process required to make the location safe and habitable again. Because the cost is many thousands of dollars, buildings may actually have to be razed and rebuilt after a methamphetamine lab has been discovered.

Some 15% of methamphetamine labs in this country are discovered as the result of an explosion or fire at the lab – a further risk to nearby innocent property owners.

Associated Criminal Activity

Additionally, law enforcement in this country has identified a trend associated with the domestic manufacture of methamphetamine: in areas where methamphetamine manufacturing is increasing, so also are car thefts, forgeries, and especially identity theft incidents. Law enforcement in these areas report that this correlation appears to exist with more frequency than with cocaine, heroin or marijuana use or trafficking.

Methamphetamine: Innocent Victims

Recently, the Department of Justice published an important report regarding children who have been raised in homes where methamphetamine labs were discovered. The results, while preliminary, are disturbing. Along with an increase in methamphetamine labs was an increase in children found present at the lab sites – most of whom resided at the residence where the lab was found.

The inherent dangers to children being raised at or near a methamphetamine lab are severe: inhalation or ingestion of toxic substances including methamphetamine, accidental injection or prick by discarded needles or other paraphernalia; and severe illness after the ingestion of chemicals. Further, children at methamphetamine labs are more likely to be physically and sexually abused by members of their own family and other individuals at the site. While withdrawing from a methamphetamine high, some parents fall into a deep sleep for days, during which time their children suffer from neglect, chemical exposure, hunger, and further abuse by other methamphetamine-using individuals. And in some cases, children have died as a direct result of exposure to the toxicity of a methamphetamine lab.

 Number of Children Involved in Meth Lab-Related Incidents, U.S.
(El Paso Intelligence Center - U.S. Department of Justice)

  2000 2001 2002 2003
Number of Incidents 8,971 13,270 15,353 14,260
Incidents with Children Present 1,803 2,191 2,077 1,442
Children Residing in Labs 216 976 2,023 1,447
Children Affected** 1,803 2,191 3,167 3,419
Children Exposed to Toxic Chemicals 345 788 1,373 1,291
Children Taken Into Protective Custody 353 778 1,026 724

*The 2003 figure for the number of incidents is calendar year, while the remaining data in the column are for fiscal year.

**Data for 2000 and 2001 may not show all children affected.

 Chemicals Used in Methamphetamine Production Chemical Hazards


Ingestion of doses greater than 240 mg. causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, dizziness, and vomiting. Ingestion of doses greater than 600 mg. can lead to renal failure and seizures.


Alcohol Extremely flammable, posing a fire risk in and around the laboratory. Inhalation/ingestion causes severe gastric irritation, narcosis, or coma.

Freon Inhalation can cause sudden cardiac death or severe lung damage. Corrosive if ingested.

Anhydrous Ammonia Inhalation causes edema of the respiratory tract and asphyxia. Contact with vapors damages eyes and mucous membranes.

Red Phosphorus May explode on contact or friction. Ignites if heated above 260oF. Vapor from ignited phosphorus severely irritates the nose, throat, lungs, and eyes.

Hypophosphorus Acid Extremely dangerous substitute for Red Phosphorus. If overheated, deadly phosphine gas is released. Poses a serious fire and explosion hazard.

Lithium Metal Extremely caustic to all body tissues. Reacts violently with water and poses a fire or explosion hazard.

Hydriodic Acid A corrosive acid with vapors that are irritating to the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. If ingested, causes severe internal irritation and damage that may cause death.

Iodine Crystals Gives off vapor that is irritating to respiratory system and eyes. Solid form irritates the eyes and may burn skin. If ingested, it will cause severe internal damage.

Phenylpropanola mine Ingestion of greater than 75 mg. causes hypertension, arrhythmia, anxiety, dizziness. Quantities greater than 300 mg. can lead to renal failure, seizures, stroke, and death.

Source: US Department of Justice, Information Bulletin: Children at Risk