Local meth makers dim the lights

Battery-powered outdoor light fixtures, like the one pictured above, are apparently being targeted by local meth lab operators, who want the nickel-cadmium batteries. It is unclear, however, if the batteries can actually be used to make meth.
Formerly limited to a specific set of ingredients – like lithium – Sterling cooks are hoping there is more than one way to make a profit. Some are absconding with partially used nickel cadmium batteries taken from items such as landscape light fixtures.

One recent victim said police mused the thieves are after the batteries – believing they have an important component in multiple methods of manufacturing meth.

But these batteries don’t contain lithium anodes, which are primarily used in batteries for cameras, clocks and watches. Instead, the cells possess a nickel shell, which when substituted for the lithium in most “birch” or “Nazi” method recipes produces a relatively inactive kind of meth, similar to an ingredient found in nasal decongestants.

Although some health organizations, such as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, list nickel as a possible ingredient in meth production, Sterling police investigator Tyson Kerr said using nickel is ineffective.

“I’ve talked to people who have watched them try to use nickel-cadmium, and it doesn’t work,” he said. Kerr said he receives regular education and training from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

When first contacted, neither Kerr nor police Lt. Randy Smithgall had heard of people trying to use nickel-cadmium batteries to produce meth, but both mentioned they wouldn’t be surprised to learn of people trying new ways to cook the drug.

“There are so many different components,” Smithgall said. “There are hundreds of different methods.”

The most popular method in Sterling requires the use of anhydrous ammonia – a common fertilizer – and products containing ephedra or pseudoephedrine.
Most cooks steal their ingredients to avoid being caught buying in bulk. Thefts from farms, fertilizer dealers and drug stores forced business owners and residents to take action. Police and the Northeast Colorado Health Department tell people the best antidote is prevention by keeping tanks, batteries and medications attended and enclosed at all times.

But do these measures work? Smithgall said there hasn’t been any change in the number of instances of stolen goods related to the production of meth. But, he pointed out that police busted 10 labs in 2002, but only one so far this year.

(c) 2003 Journal-Advocate. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

Published in A1 “Today’s Headlines”