Meth labs heading towards Richmond-metro

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - These are the numbers of meth lab incidents in Virginia from 2006-2009: 21, 22, 19 and 28. The numbers are pretty steady. Then in 2010, a major hike to 107 meth lab incidents.

The statistic is attributed to more police cracking down on the chemical cookers. But, there are also more meth addicts in the Richmond-metro area.

So far in 2011, there have been more than 50 meth lab incidents. State police report some in Chester, Petersburg and the Fan in Richmond where homes are separated by a few feet.

Lieutenant John Ruffin, a meth expert for Virginia State Police said you need to keep an eye out on your neighbor next door.

"We started seeing an influx coming from Tennessee, out in Southwest Virginia," explained Lt. John Ruffin. "It's slowly moving up into Roanoke now and it's slowly moving its way eastward towards Richmond."

Items purchased at almost any store are used to make the face-deforming drug that's addictive after just one hit.

"The way it's been explained to me, it's the best feeling that you could ever get using a drug," Ruffin said. "The problem with methamphetamine, part of the reason why it's so addictive, is because once you're coming off of that high, your body starts to hurt."

So people keep using the stimulant.

"This drug rules their life. They don't care about their kids. They don't care about themselves. They're going to do whatever it takes to get this drug into their system," he said.

Drug addicts are becoming so good at creating ways to cook meth quickly, one method takes 45 minutes and can be done in the car.

"We call this the one-pot method. And that's all it is. Everything is done in this one bottle," Ruffin said.

Inside plastic bottles created to hold beverages, a concoction so dangerous it can burn your skin or spark an explosion that could take down an entire room. Meth users are tossing the bottles with "left-over" that looks like tobacco, out windows. People, unfamiliar with the drug, may pick it up without knowing the danger.

"Even just opening the top or if it had a hole in it, and these fumes were to escape, and you inhaled them, it could burn your lungs. It can incapacitate you," Ruffin said.

Lt. Ruffin said innocent Virginians have gotten sick.

"We had an incident out in southwest Virginia where there was a meth cooker, cooking meth. He had a fan, in the back of his room, blowing the fumes out. His next door neighbors had a fan in their bedroom to blow in the cool air," he said.

The couple was diagnosed with chemical-induced pneumonia. You could be exposed at any time. The meth expert said people are making the drug on the go; carrying supplies in backpacks, then leaving what they don't need in our communities.

One man, 31-year-old Joshua Rhodes is accused of making meth in a Chester motel room.  Cleaning up that one mess cost the federal government thousands.

"The cost for a clean-up can run anywhere between $4,000 and $20,000 depending on the size of the lab," Chesterfield County Police Chief Thierry Dupuis said.

But now Chesterfield County will have to come up with the money. In March Congress cut funding. Local governments are now stuck with the tab.

Chesterfield's police chief is strategizing, "We're going to go in, obviously secure the scene, collect our evidence. As far as the clean-up is concerned that's going to be turned over to the fire department."

The county plans on charging the people arrested or the property owners for the clean-up.

The Dupuis said one way to keep costs from rising is to be proactive and scout out illegal activity before it escalates to a potential explosion.

"And I anticipate, like anything else, that there's a possibility that we may see more," said Dupuis.

So what should you look out: plastic bottles with tubes attached. Also look for batteries that have been pealed open. Meth-makers use the chemical inside. And sniff out suspicious activity: cops say smells of acid and ammonia are common when cooking meth.

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