By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON RIVER - Last month, a child was exposed to dangerous methamphetamine chemicals from a burst plastic bottle while playing at an Iron River park.
Nikki Younk/Daily News Photo
Detective/Lt. Tim Sholander of UPSET speaks about the dangers of methamphetamine and other drugs to a group of people at West Iron County High School. About 60 people attended the informational meeting.
Although the child was not injured, the incident caused concern among residents.
That concern is what prompted officials from the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) and the Michigan State Police to hold an informational seminar about "meth" and other drugs at West Iron County High School on Tuesday.
About 60 people attended the meeting.
Detective/Lt. Tim Sholander of UPSET explained that meth is an extremely addictive stimulant drug that can be smoked or injected intravenously.
It is manufactured with inexpensive yet hazardous materials.
Ingredients include pseudoephedrine from cold medicine, lithium from batteries, lye from drain cleaner, and solvents such as paint thinner.
"I'm not teaching you how to make it, but I want you to be able to identify the materials so you know what to look for," said Sholander. "These items together can be evidence of a meth lab."
According to Sholander, meth labs have evolved over the years.
In the 1990s, meth labs were more elaborate and usually located indoors. Now, they can be as simple as a plastic pop bottle.
Sholander urged that residents be especially careful of any plastic bottles that have the outer wrapper removed and contain an unknown liquid.
"Do not touch or move it," he cautioned. "Call the police right away."
Once the chemicals inside the bottle start reacting, gases such as hydrogen chloride build up inside. If inhaled, the gas can burn a person's respiratory tract.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the potential for explosion.
Sholander said that if the bottle becomes open in any way, either through an open cap or through lithium burning through the plastic, the contact of the chemical mixture with the oxygen in the air can cause a fiery blast.
"These things blow up a lot," he added.
Even if meth labs do not explode, the chemical residue and lingering gas are expensive to clean up.
Sholander estimated that UPSET spends between $6,000 to $10,000 to clean a single meth lab area.
"Homes and vehicles become completely contaminated," he said. "It sticks in the carpet fibers."
After a meth lab in a home is cleaned, the local community health department still needs to test the home before it can be deemed suitable for occupancy.
Sholander also noted some tell-tale signs of meth use.
Many meth users have bad teeth and open sores on their skin. These traits are the result of users staying awake for days at a time, while constantly grinding their teeth and picking at their skin, said Sholander.
Besides discussing the dangers of meth, Sholander touched on some of the other problem drugs in the Upper Peninsula.
Recent drug trends consist of heroin, crack cocaine, prescription drugs, bath salts, and synthetic marijuana.
"Iron County has a heroin problem right now," said Sholander. "Menominee County has a heroin epidemic."
Sholander believed that heroin has become popular because it is now cheaper than prescription drugs. It can also be more difficult for authorities to detect on suspects, due to the relatively small amounts in which it is used.
In addition, Sholander pointed out that Michigan sentencing guidelines for heroin offenses are much less severe than those for Wisconsin. While a heroin conviction could warrant a three year sentence in Wisconsin, it might only get four to eight months in Michigan.
Before concluding his program, Sholander noted that UPSET, which is a non-profit organization, is always looking for funding.
Send any donations to UPSET, P.O. Box 364, Gwinn, MI, 49841.
Anyone with information on illegal drug activity can contact UPSET via its tip line at (906) 346-9289.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.