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About Meth

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Dangers of Meth manufacture

Each pound of manufactured methamphetamine produces about 5 to 6 pounds of hazardous waste. Clandestine drug lab operators commonly bury or burn the waste on or near the site, or dump the waste along the road or into streams or rivers. Others pour waste down the drain, place it in household or commercial trash, or store it on the property.

An estimated 34 different chemicals can be used to produce methamphetamine. Among the most common are cold and allergy medications such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine, red phosphorous, iodine, hydrochloric acid, ether, hydriodic acid, and anhydrous ammonia., lye, rock salt, battery acid, lithium batteries, pool acid, iodine, lighter fluid, matches, fireworks, road flares, antifreeze, propane, paint thinner, and drain cleaner.

'Cooking'

Lab cooks using ephedrine or pseudoephedrine can make a batch of methamphetamine in anywhere from two to 12 hours depending on the batch's size and whether the cooks use heat to speed up the process (Institute for Law and Justice and 21st Century Solutions 2000; Campbell Resources Inc. n.d.).

There are three main cooking methods for producing methamphetamine• the phenyl-2-propanone (or P2P) method, the red phosphorous (or red P) method, and the Nazi dope (or lithium or sodium reduction) method.

The phenyl-2-propanone method is less common today, largely because its main precursor chemical, phenyl acetic acid, has been strictly regulated and is hard to obtain; it takes longer to produce methamphetamine; and it produces a less pure and less potent form of the drug, a form with worse side effects.

Most methamphetamine cooks now use the latter two methods, in which ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is the main precursor chemical.

The red phosphorous method uses match tips and iodine, where the Nazi dope method uses lithium or sodium metal strips and anhydrous ammonia, an agricultural fertiliser, to synthesise the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.
Heating the chemical red phosphorous, found in match tips can create phosphine, a deadly gas.

Odour

Various chemicals that are used in or are by-products of methamphetamine production, such as phosphine, ether, ammonia, battery acid, and acetone, have distinctive smells.

For example:
Phosphine smells like garlic,
Sulphur smells like rotten eggs, Ammonia smells like cat urine, and Acetone smells like nail polish remover.

Useful advice

With availability at an all time high, and price at an all time low, the issue of Methamphetamine and how it affects properties, landlords and tenants is not going away.

One of the most significant issues currently facing New Zealand landlords is that around Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal meth, or ‘P’). What makes methamphetamine such a problem is that it’s a drug that can be made from scratch, without any experience, with easily accessible chemicals, using basic household equipment, and unfortunately the ‘cooking’ instructions are as freely available as the ingredients. With a high percentage of this drug being produced in rental properties, it is important for all investors to understand their responsibilities around this issue as well as the risks it can present for them, their tenants, and their properties.

About Contamination

Methamphetamine is a toxic and addictive drug. Effects of it’s use can include mood swings, paranoia, aggression, anxiety and insomnia. In addition, extended periods of exposure can lead to chronic health effects including liver, kidney and brain damage, cancers, and birth defects. Health, careers and families can be destroyed, and we are now seeing the financial consequences meth has on individuals who have absolutely no direct contact with the drug – unsuspecting landlords and tenants.

Rental properties can become contaminated through recreational use just as easily as those subject to manufacture.

Contamination levels will vary depending on the situation, but both have the potential to cost an investor tens of thousands of dollars in decontamination, testing, cleanup and any lost rent associated with the property being declared ‘uninhabitable’. (If police become involved due to a tenant’s use or manufacturing, they are obligated to report your property’s contamination to the local council authorities which can result in permanent public record, on your property’s LIM – potentially damaging the resale value of your investment.)

Landlord Risks

As a landlord, it’s important to know your responsibilities around meth contamination – both for your tenants’ safety, and to ensure that you’re adequately covered.

It is now more important than ever to do thorough tenant background checks.

Complete a methamphetamine test at the beginning and end of every tenancy (this is the only way to place liability on tenants and prove you have provided a safe and sanitary dwelling).

Have the right insurance cover (in many cases, there is no cover if the contamination happened through use, rather than manufacture, however around 90% of cases are caused by use) – Every insurer has a different policy, and when looking at cover for unlawful substances, each case is looked at on an individual basis. – There are a few things to look out for in your policy:

Exclusions – some policies outright exclude drug-related damages
Caps on the amount of cover available – some policies limit cover for loss to $25,000 – which can disappear very quickly due to high decontamination costs

Include a statement in your tenancy agreement allowing you to test the property for meth (at your discretion) – and keep written records of each inspection outcome.

What to look for?

Know what to look for during inspections. Common indicators of meth production can include:

Windows blacked out/covered or obscured from view. Chemical odours (solvents mainly).
Empty chemical containers lying around outside. Exhaust fans.

Paranoid secretive or odd behaviour from occupants. Access denied to landlords/neighbours and agents. Frequent visitors at odd hours.
Occupants may be unemployed however they possess nice cars and expensive toys.

Expensive security and surveillance equipment.
Occupants of the residence constantly going outside to smoke.

Yellow or brown discolouration on walls, drains, sinks and showers.

Smoke alarms that are removed or taped off.

Jars containing clear liquid with a red or white solid on the bottom. Jars containing iodine or dark shiny metallic balls inside jars. Jars containing red phosphorous or a fine dark red or purple powder.

Coffee filters containing a white pasty substance. A dark red sludge or small amounts of shiny white crystals.

How do I protect myself and my property?

Although not a clearly defined legal requirement [we] recommend that all landlords have an independent methamphetamine test undertaken pre and post tenancy to ensure any contamination and subsequent liability can be identified as early as possible.

We believe in investing a few hundred dollars in a non- invasive swab test, and making it part of your due diligence can end up saving you thousands in the long run. Starting the process of regular testing will protect both tenants and yourself, the landlords.

Do I legally have to test for meth?
While there is currently no law stating meth testing is a requirement for landlords, if a landlord rents out a property that is contaminated, they are breaching their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (to provide a clean property to incoming tenants) as well as responsibilities under other legislation such as the Building Act and Health Act to ensure the safety of those who inhabit their investment property. Testing is required to ensure liability and financial repercussions of any possible contamination can be placed back on those who caused it. A lack of a negative test at the beginning of a tenancy can also leave landlords open to legal challenges from tenants if a later test comes back positive during the time of their tenancy, even if the current tenants themselves were the ones to cause the contamination.

Types of testing

Currently there are no standards or regulations around meth testing – the industry is presently unregulated and there have been reports of an increasing number of rogue operators. Fortunately new standards and rules for testing and decontamination, analysis, health and safety, were released earlier this year NZS 8510:2017.

There are a range of testing methods to chose from: Field composite – individual samples are combined onsite. Lower costs upfront, although results can be misleading and further site visits and testing are often required – incurring unnecessary costs and delays. This type of testing does not meet the government guidelines and is unlikely to be upheld at a tribunal.

Lab composite – the lab run a combined test from the individual swabs taken to yield an average reading. If meth presence is detected then they can proceed to individual analysis.

Individual analysis – This service has a higher upfront cost however yields lower overall costs if further analysis is needed.

Need help, or more information?

If you’d like to arrange for your property to be tested, contact us on 0274100567 or e-mail Craig@MethForensics.co.nz