CRYSTAL METH ADDICTS KEEP SETTING THEMSELVES ON FIRE
Crystal meth, the cheap, life-wrecking, libido-inflaming drug beloved of actor Tom Sizemore, Fergie, and many other unfortunate people has now found a way to make itself even more readily available, dangerous, and undignified. Unless, y’know, having third-degree burns covering 90 percent of your body and a bunch of teeth missing is a look that you’re into.
Over the last few years, the “shake and bake” method has overtaken the lengthy, complicated production technique that required an out of the way location, sophisticated glassware and patience (something meth tweakers tend to be in short supply of). The newfangled way retains the majority of crystal meth’s traditional ingredients (pseudoephedrine, lithium, Coleman fuel, hydrochloric acid, etc), but instead of using glassware and an open flame, they’re mixed by shaking them all together in a regular plastic bottle with water.
The shaking process takes 15 minutes to produce meth, it’s so easy that you can do it in Walmart without anyone really noticing and the batch is stronger—sounds perfect, right? Well yes, if it wasn’t for the one major downside: a massive risk that the whole thing will blow up in your face.
The problem shakers and bakers are having is that the reaction is much less stable when you’re rattling it around in a bottle of Faygo than when you’re in lab conditions. The lithium can react with the water—or the air, if the bottle cap is released too early—and can explode, consuming the meth cook in a ball of flame. Victims of these explosions are flooding into burns units all over the US, forcing some to close as the mostly insurance-free addicts strip hospitals of their resources.
I wanted to learn a bit more about the shake and bake method (for purely journalistic reasons ;) of course), so I got in touch with Tommy Farmer, a detective at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and director of the state meth and pharmaceuticals task force.
VICE: Hey Tommy. How do these shake bottles explode, what goes wrong? Tommy: A combination of things really, but basically it’s a false sense of security on the part of the meth cook. We tell them it’s a matter of when not if, because the speed of the reaction and the combination of the chemicals makes it very explosive. The ingredients consist of ammonia nitrate, sodium hydroxide, pseudoephedrine and ether, and with water, that’s a very reactive combination.
So a bit of chemistry knowledge may keep you safe? Well yes and no, the problem with it is you’re using improvised devices and when you do that, these things happen. When you create an endothermic reaction in a plastic bottle, you can’t prepare for all the equations and outcomes. Even the experiments we’ve done in our lab where we’re trying to learn about this technique and its risks have been failures, and we’ve had some dangerous reactions. The difference between us and them is that we were wearing fire protective suits, but meth cooks don’t have $1200 for one of those and so end up in one of the local burn units, which are currently one-third full across the US.
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