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Managing animals seized from methamphetamine laboratory busts (Proceedings)

Article

Methamphetamine, also known as Meth, Speed, Ice, Crystal, Chalk, Crank, Tweak, Uppers, Black Beauties, Glass, Bikers Coffee, Methlies Quick, Poor Man"s Cocaine, Chicken Feed, Shabu, Crystal Meth, Stove Top, Trash, Go-Fast, Yaba and Yellow Bam, is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant drug.

Methamphetamine, also known as Meth, Speed, Ice, Crystal, Chalk, Crank, Tweak, Uppers, Black Beauties, Glass, Bikers Coffee, Methlies Quick, Poor Man"s Cocaine, Chicken Feed, Shabu, Crystal Meth, Stove Top, Trash, Go-Fast, Yaba and Yellow Bam, is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant drug. Methamphetamine ranks third, behind alcohol and marijuana, in terms of drugs of abuse in the United States, particularly in the Midwestern and Western States.

One factor that may be involved in the popularity of methamphetamine use, besides its highly addictive nature, is the ease of manufacture. While large laboratories (super labs) in Mexico are considered the be source of much of the methamphetamine on the West coast, the majority of methamphetamine is "home grown," produced in either super labs or in relatively small clandestine laboratories (box labs) throughout the United States. These laboratories can be found in virtually any location, including rural areas, residential neighborhoods, commercial properties, and industrial districts. Clandestine laboratories have been found in private residences, hotels, motels, barns, farm outbuildings, outdoors, automobile trunks, boats and luggage.

Although the term "laboratory" may lead one to imagine a sterile, highly controlled environment, clandestine methamphetamine laboratories are more commonly disorganized, dirty, and highly contaminated by the large number of potentially toxic compounds that are used to produce the end product. The manufacture of methamphetamine is a relatively simple process, involving the use of readily available ingredients and equipment. Many of the chemicals used to produce methamphetamine are extremely hazardous (Figure 1), and approximately 5 to 7 pounds of toxic waste is generated for each pound of methamphetamine produced. Methamphetamine laboratories are generally dangerous places, not only to those who produce the compound, but to others who may be living nearby as well as to law enforcement, firemen or individuals who may enter the area.

Very much like children of individuals who manufacture (and generally use) methamphetamine, animals in these environments be at risk for a variety of potential hazards. The risks from chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine include burns and injuries due to explosions and fires from highly volatile agents, breathing problems due to the inhalation of toxic vapors or gases, systemic effects of ingesting the precursor chemicals or the end product, and irritation or burns of the skin and or due to contact with corrosive chemicals such as acids. Chemicals spills onto flooring or the ground pose a particular hazard to free roaming pets, as they may walk through, lie in, and/or ingest the spilled materials. Mechanical injury from discarded syringes, razor blades or other hazards is also possible. Because many methamphetamine manufacturers are often addicted users, animals in the area may also be malnourished due to neglect and/or have evidence of physical abuse.

The types of animals that might be present in a clandestine laboratory during a raid by law enforcement include household pets, livestock, and captive-kept wild animals. Guard dogs are commonly utilized by methamphetamine manufacturers. Animal control officers responding to should be ready for anything: at a Massachusetts methamphetamine laboratory raid, police found alligators guarding the residence!

Seizure of animals during a methamphetamine laboratory raid must be done with care, as the animals themselves may be contaminated and pose a health hazard to those that handle them. In an ideal situation, entry into the "hot zone" will be restricted to those specially trained and equipped to handle hazardous materials and the animals that are seized will be brought out to an area designated for initial decontamination. However, there will be times when animal control officers will be requested to enter the hot zone to remove animals. In these situations, personal safety becomes paramount, as you cannot help the animals if you yourself become injured or ill due to exposure to hazardous chemicals. At the very least protective eye, hand and foot covering should be used. If available, protective jumpsuits (e.g. Tyvek) should also be worn. If toxic fumes are suspected or detected, only professionals possessing suitable respirators should enter the area.

Upon entering the hot zone, officers should not touch anything, unless absolutely necessary, and should try to avoid stepping into pools, puddles, or solid materials (including syringes) on the ground. To avoid contaminating other areas outside the hot zone, leashes, carriers, and cages should be brought into the area rather than using the contaminated items in the laboratory; ideally, even collars and halters should be removed prior to removing the animal from the hot zone.

Upon leaving the hot zone, animals should be taken to an area designated for initial decontamination and triage (ideally a veterinary professional would be available to assist in triage). Animals leaving an environment in which methamphetamine was being manufactured should be considered to be contaminated with potentially hazardous materials and they will need to be decontaminated in order to minimize the contamination of the animal control vehicle and facilities. Animals judged to be in immediate need of veterinary care due to life-threatening injury or illness should be placed in a carrier (not one that has been in the hot zone) and transported immediately. Personnel handling the carrier and animal should remain in protective gear until such time that the animal can be adequately decontaminated, and any carrier used to transport the animal should be washed thoroughly with soap and hot water.

Animals not judged to be in need of immediate veterinary care should be decontaminated by bathing with liquid dish soap (e.g. Dawn) and warm water. Animals that are difficult or dangerous to handle may require sedation. Prior to decontamination, it would be prudent to inquire of law enforcement officials if they desire any samples be taken from the animals for later analysis (e.g. hair swabs). Besides the water supply and dish soap, supplies that come in handy include 4 wading pools (to make a decontamination line away from the hot zone (bath 1, rinse 1, bath 2, rinse 2)), sterile saline (eye rinse), cloth towels and paper towels; ideally some type of riser or pallet that can keep the animals' feet from sitting in the wash water would be desirable. The first bather (in full PPE, as needed) wets and washes the animal with liquid dish soap, then transfers the animal to the first rinser (in full PPE as needed) who rinses the animal thoroughly. The animal is then transferred to the third decontamination pool and re washed, then transferred to the final rinse pool. The animal is then toweled dry and placed in a clean carrier for transport.

Animals that may become overtly stressed by aggressive bathing (e.g. birds, pocket pets, etc.) should be spritzed with a mixture of warm water and dish soap (be careful around eyes) from a spray bottle followed by a rinse in clean water from a different spray bottle. Following bathing, animals should be toweled off, placed in clean carriers and transported to an area where they can be evaluated by a veterinarian (e.g. animal control facility, veterinary clinic). Animals should be kept warm to prevent chilling.

The veterinarian should evaluate the animals for evidence of exposure to methamphetamine or compounds used in its manufacture. Acute effects expected from exposure to methamphetamine include agitation, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased body temperature, disorientation, tremors or seizures. Unfortunately many of these findings may occur in animals due to the stress of being seized, decontaminated and transported; in these situations, one would expect the majority of these signs to subside quickly as the animal is placed in a quiet environment. Animals should also be evaluated for the presence of respiratory, skin or eye injury from inhalation of toxic compounds as well as have a general physical examination to document body condition, parasite burden, physical injuries, etc. Appropriate treatment should be initiated as needed.

If requested by law enforcement, urine and/or blood may be taken for methamphetamine testing, but it must be kept in mind that these tests can become negative very quickly following removal from the methamphetamine source. Blood should be collected within 6-12 hours and urine within 48 hours for the most accurate results. Over the counter urine tests are readily available at most drug stores/pharmacies and may prove helpful in quick identification of animals that have been exposed to methamphetamine. Alternately, blood or urine samples can be sent to human hospital or veterinary diagnostic laboratories for evaluation. A negative methamphetamine test does not rule out the possibility that the animal was exposed to toxic precursor chemicals rather than the end product.

Effects of amphetamines on animal behavior in general relate to nervous system stimulation and include agitation, hyperactivity, aggression, irritability, and apprehension. Based on experimental studies in rats, chronic methamphetamine administration could conversely result in decreased activity and decreased memory and learning ability. Behavioral evaluations on animals seized from methamphetamine laboratories are best delayed for at least a week following their removal from the methamphetamine lab. This time frame should allow for elimination of any methamphetamine from the body as well as allow some time for the animal to adapt to its environment and show more of its normal character. In general, any behavioral "quirks" caused by the methamphetamine exposure should be present at the time of the rescue and would either be expected to resolve over several days or perhaps become permanent. What would not be generally expected is for the animal to develop further neurologic dysfunction after exposure to the methamphetamine has ceased.

Although long term use of methamphetamine in humans can cause significant health issues, there is little information about the overall effects of chronic methamphetamine exposure in domestic animals. Questions such as potential for development of chronic lung disease (secondary to inhalation of irritants) or cancer several years following exposure are at this point not answerable at this time. It is known that many dogs and cats seized from methamphetamine laboratories have been successfully placed in homes and have lived normal life spans, so the prognosis is generally considered good for those animals that are able to be rehabilitated.

Resources

Overview of methamphetamine:

http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/meth.html

International Association of Fire Fighters outline of hazards of methamphetamine labs:

http://www.iaff.org/HS/Resi/Methamphetamine%20final.htm

Methamphetamine Laboratory Identification and Hazards Fast Facts:

http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs7/7341/index.htm

Information on decontamination of children exposed to methamphetamine labs (good information that can be extrapolated to animal first responders):

http://www.nebraskadec.org/decontamination.html

A good protocol for handling children at meth sites (good extrapolation to animals):

http://www.azag.gov/DEC/docs/DEC_protocol.pdf

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