Here is an excerpt from a story in Monday’s news that caught my attention:
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Illegal methamphetamine "cooks" are traipsing undetected through an unknown number of motels and hotels with covert drug-making labs — leaving a toxic mess behind for unsuspecting customers and housekeeping crews.The 1,789 motel/hotel rooms contaminated with hazardous chemicals is unreal considering that it only represents those reported to law enforcement-—probably a third or less of the rooms actually exposed. Since only a few states actually report this data to the federal government, multiplying that total by another three may be a more accurate representation of hotel/motel contamination.
They are places where drug-makers can go unnoticed, mixing the chemicals needed for the highly addictive stimulant in a matter of hours before slipping out the next morning. The dangerous contaminants can lurk on countertops, carpets and bathtubs, and the sickening smells produced can be masked by tobacco smoke and other scents.
Motels can be an attractive alternative for drug makers seeking to avoid a police bust in their own homes.
"They can seize the trailer or seize your house but they can't seize a motel room," said Dr. Sullivan Smith, director of emergency services at Cookeville Regional Medical Center in north-central Tennessee.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration records obtained by The Associated Press show that states reported finding drug-making in 1,789 motel and hotel rooms in the past five years — and that's just what authorities found.
Some cleanup professionals hired to make the travelers' havens livable again say most of their work is done on properties where a meth lab was discovered long afterward.
The number of clandestine labs that are never found is difficult to pin down. There was a slight uptick in hotel and motel lab busts reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008 from the previous year, with 149 in 2006, 87 in 2007 and 127 in 2008.
The tally was 461 in 2005 and 965 in 2004, before there were restrictions on purchasing over-the-counter decongestants often used as ingredients. The DEA count is based on states that reported labs.
The toxins can linger for days if meth lab hygienists wearing hazmat suits don't clean living areas.
The cleanups cost anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Even short-term exposure to vapors and residue where the drug is smoked or cooked can cause eye and skin irritation, vomiting, rashes, asthma problems and other respiratory issues…
Doing the math(3 times 1,789; times 3), a better estimate of guest room contaminations by meth labs in the last five years is 16,101. A healthy reminder for me that extra caffeine may be a healthier alternative the next time that I am on a long drive, become tired, and think about stopping for the night at a budget hotel.
For those occasions when we do need to stop for the night, the North Metro Task Force’s (Colorado) website offers text suggestions with photographic examples regarding what to look for in hotel rooms that have been used by meth cookers (e.g. yellow-green carpet stains, discolored countertops in the bathroom, remnants of cat litter which is used to absorb gases, etc.).
I consider these types of reports very depressing-—not only as a reminder for the users’ lives being ruined by meth, but also for the law-abiding citizens simply looking for a hotel room after a long day’s travel and encountering a dangerous crime scene instead.