by Jacob Sullum
AP reports that legal restrictions on sales of cold and allergy remedies containing pseudoephedrine, aimed at suppressing methamphetamine production, have helped popularize the "shake and bake" method of making meth, which is less complicated and requires fewer pills:
The new formula does away with the clutter of typical meth labs, and it can turn the back seat of a car or a bathroom stall into a makeshift drug factory. Some addicts have even made the drug while driving.
The pills are crushed, combined with some common household chemicals and then shaken in the soda bottle. No flame is required....
"It simplified the process so much that everybody's making their own dope," said Kevin Williams, sheriff of Marion County, Ala.
"If there is any oxygen at all in the bottle, it has a propensity to make a giant fireball," said Sgt. Jason Clark of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. "You're not dealing with rocket scientists here anyway. If they get unlucky at all, it can have a very devastating reaction."
One little mistake, such as unscrewing the bottle cap too fast, can result in a huge blast, and police in Alabama, Oklahoma and other states have linked dozens of flash fires this year—some of them fatal—to meth manufacturing.
"Every meth recipe is dangerous, but in this one, if you don't shake it just right, you can build up too much pressure, and the container can pop," Woodward said.
When fire broke out in older labs, "it was usually on a stove in a back room or garage and people would just run, but when these things pop, you see more extreme burns because they are holding it. There are more fires and more burns because of the close proximity, whether it's on a couch or driving down the road."
After the chemical reaction, what's left is a crystalline powder that users smoke, snort or inject. They often discard the bottle, which now contains a poisonous brown and white sludge. Dozens of reports describe toxic bottles strewn along highways and rural roads in states with the worst meth problems.
Limiting retail sales of pseudoephedrine has inconvenienced cold and allergy sufferers, forcing them to buy the drug in smaller quantities, request it from the pharmacist instead of taking it off a shelf, and sign a log so police can (theoretically) keep track of who is buying the pills. But there's little evidence that the restrictions have reduced meth consumption, since large-scale Mexican traffickers picked up the slack from mom-and-pop labs. The one arguable benefit from this shift was that it reduced the hazards from local production. So much for that.
"You have to understand going in that drugs are an evolutionary process," a Mississippi legislator tells A.P. "The day after we pass a law, they are going to look for ways to circumvent that." The solution: more laws, of course. Since the current restrictions haven't worked, no doubt we will soon see legislation making pseudoephedrine—a cheap, safe, and highly effective decongestant—available only by prescription or entirely illegal.
As I noted several years ago, you don't need pseudoephedrine to make meth. Other Reason coverage of the pseudoephedrine crackdown here. A purported recipe for one version of shake-and-bake meth (which I do not vouch for and do not recommend you try) here.