AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Since November of last year, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has responded to 14 meth labs in Maine. In the previous year they raided only one.
"We remain vigilant, and so when we do see an increase, as we have seen in the past 9 months, we are concerned about that trend," stated MDEA Director, Roy McKinney.
"Predominately, we are seeing it in Aroostook County, and we attribute that to the fact that there is an established meth user group up there, because for a number of years we have had methamphetamine tablets smuggled in from Canada into Aroostook County," said McKinney, adding that the drug has been found in all corners of the state.
Complicating matters is the fact that all the ingredients needed to manufacture meth are widely available.
"The ingredients can be lawfully obtained, in and of themselves, each of those ingredients is not unlawful, but bring all of those ingredients together and you have manufacturing of methamphetamine," he explained.
McKinney says not only is the drug fairly easy to make, but it can be done in a surprisingly small space.
"It can occur in a vehicle. The ingredients and the container can be in a backpack, a suitcase, the back of a pickup or the trunk of a compact car."
The ingredients used to manufacture meth can be combined in to a single vessel, commonly one as simple as a soda bottle, but the chemical reactions that occur during the process can create toxic fumes, spark a fire or even explode, creating even more concern for first responders and a dangerous situation for people involved in its manufacture, as well as innocent bystanders.
"You wouldn't want to get the material on your skin, so we wear protective suits, we wear gloves, we wear respiratory protection, so that we are not inhaling any hazardous vapors that might be present," explained Peter Blanchard, an oil and hazardous materials responder with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP is often called in to assist law enforcement officials in cleaning up the chemicals when a meth lab is found.
"Most of the chemicals from these meth labs are either corrosive or flammable materials," stated Blanchard. "There may be some water reactive materials. It is really no different than another type of chemical incident that may occur as a result of a traffic accident or a manufacturing accident."
But while police and hazmat teams wear protective suits and breathing apparatus, most people making meth do not.
"It's scary, and so that takes a desperate type person to expose themselves to those hazards," said Blanchard.
The recent spike in meth labs has also placed an extra burden on taxpayers. The cost to train police officers to investigate and stabilize these clandestine labs, pay for the manpower needed to seize evidence and search for suspects, purchase equipment and dispose of the hazardous materials can add up quickly.
"We have seen the costs go as high, in some of these labs, as high as $15,000 just MDEA's costs," said McKinney. "That doesn't speak to the costs of the local law enforcement agency and other first responders, as well as DEP."
While Maine and most of New England have been spared the headache and heartache seen in other regions of the country due to the meth epidemic, law enforcement officials vow to remain vigilant to keep the problem from escalating.
"Meth is here," stated McKinney. "That is a danger."