Methamphetamine is a cheap and easy to make drug that offers an intense high, making it highly addictive and corrosive.
The drug can quickly hook users and lead to a prolonged and damaging addiction that can cause a myriad of mental and physical health problems.
The caustic nature of meth can be attributed to the common household ingredients used to make it.
"It's common products that you might get at any retail store or pharmacy, and most of us already have them at home. It's just knowing how to put them together," Mark Woodward, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs said.
The process of manufacturing the drug has changed over the years, due in part to legislation passed to combat production. Where elaborate labs were once necessary and the process took two to three hours, a user can now make a small batch in 45 minutes using little more than a 20-ounce soda bottle, a package of cold medicine, cleaning supplies and a coffee filter.
Users implement this "shake and bake" method, a process Woodward calls an inexact science using volatile material, to produce a small amount of the drug. A successful batch creates around 10 ounces of toxic waste for every quarter gram of meth – roughly one hit – produced.
Some of the ingredients include ether from starting fluid; red phosphorus found on the head of match sticks and in fireworks; ammonium nitrate, the ingredient in cold packs that make them get cold; lithium metal from camera batteries; sodium hydroxide from a drain cleaner; water; and pseudo ephedrine from cold medicine.
The components are measured and combined in the soda bottle, then shaken until the ingredients break down into sludge.
A brownish liquid, like the foam at the top of an icy mug of root beer, rises to the top.
The brown liquid is skimmed from the "gunk," usually with a turkey baster, and then dried out using Hydrogen Chloride Gas made by combining sulfuric acid and salt, or muriatic acid and tinfoil. Muriatic acid is commonly used in swimming pools.
"It is very corrosive, some cooks even use a gas mask while they're powdering that out using that gas," Woodward said.
The volatile combination of chemicals can easily "flashover," or catch fire, during production.
"It is a lot of work for a small amount of meth," Woodward said. "[Users] say it's worth all that work for the high that they get, because that high can last 14 to 24 hours."
That is longer than any other street drug. Because of the low cost of the drug, Oklahoma ranks in the top five states for meth use and production, Woodward said. The shake and bake, or "one pot," method became widespread after a series of laws were passed in Oklahoma in the early 1990s. These laws effectively regulated the purchase of many meth ingredients, resulting in a 95 percent reduction of meth labs in the state from 2004 until 2008.
Around that time, production started ticking up because of the shake and bake method.
One-pot production is strictly used by cooks that plan to use their product, and not used for commercial production. Bigger "super" labs, or "fiesta labs," are used by Mexican drug cartels that set up shop and cook large amounts of the drug to sell.
"They cook pounds and pounds of it and package it and ship it across the country, and some of it is coming through Oklahoma because of our highway system," Woodward said. "They're cooking in 55gallon drums, that's mass production for commercial sale."
Instead of coffee filters, the cartels use bed sheets, he said.
Meth addiction can lead to risky behavior, like cooking the drug, or stealing and other behavior that can have grave consequences at every level of one's health.
The average heart beats around 70 beats per minute (BPM). A heart rate at 100 BPM is considered fast, Dr. Scott Hough, M.D. F.A.C.E.P., an emergency medicine physician at St. Anthony, said. Some meth users go into the emergency room at St. Anthony's with a heart rate of 140 to 150 BPM.
"Most [health problems from meth] stem from malnutrition," Hough said. "You can also get skin disorders, ulcers, a lot of vitamin deficiencies, but the main thing is just behavioral."
Meth causes appetite suppression and severe sleep deprivation that can lead to psychosis like paranoia or depression, which can lead to murder or suicide. The most common health problems Hough has seen are skin ulcers and dental decay (see sidebar).
Pottawatomie County is the worst county for meth use out of the seven counties Hough has worked in, he said. He sees at least one patient with meth related health problems every day.
"But, it's bad everywhere," he said.
Tulsa County has the worst meth problem in the state.
Law enforcement seizes approximately two to three meth labs a day there, compared to one a month in Oklahoma County and one to two a month in Pottawatomie County, Woodward said.