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Time, Place, and Manner

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Do you live near a meth lab?

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One time I watched 4 seasons of Breaking Bad in 4 days. That time was about 2 weeks ago. I guess CNN wanted to keep meth on my mind, because they came out with this handy interactive map asking, “Do you live near a meth lab?” Turns out I don’t. But thanks for the inquiry.

The map shows the total number of meth labs found in every county in every state, from 2004-2012. When they say “found,” they mean, “discovered in some capacity by local law enforcement and then reported to the DEA.” So, while Jesse’s mom found the lab in the basement of his aunt’s house, the police never did, so it wouldn’t be included on this map. And technically, CNN should be asking "Did you used to live near a meth lab?" It's not like they're listing operational facilities.

CNN’s map also has a complementary DEA map titled “National Clandestine Laboratory Register” that lists the address for every single one of those labs since 2004. You have to pick your state first, and the results are sorted by county, but you can see the exact address and date of bust for each lab ever found.

“Clandestine” seems sort of redundant at first. Who wants their meth lab discovered by law enforcement? But, Desoxyn is the prescription form of meth, used to treat ADHD and obesity, although rarely.  So, because some pharmaceutical company somewhere can legally make meth, everyone else has to call their lab clandestine. “Illegal” would be too harsh. After all, these are just drug manufacturers, not immigrants.

“Clandestine laboratories” are not to be confused with “laboratory incidents.” There are other DEA maps, this time broken down by year, providing the total number of meth lab incidents for each state. “Incidents” include labs, "dumpsites" or "chemical and glassware" seizure. The other two maps only include labs. Who knew the DEA had such an active graphics department?

Looking at the lab incidents for the last year, it appears that D.C. and Hawaii had 0; Alaska, Maryland, and Rhode Island each had only one; Utah, New Jersey, and Connecticut only had 2; and Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Massachusetts only had 3. Either these states have virtually no meth labs or meth users, or their labs aren’t getting busted by law enforcement.

I’m inclined to believe the latter. The states with the highest population density are, in this order: D.C., New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland.  So, 0, 2, 1, 3, 1. Given the national prevalence of methamphetamine, it seems a little unlikely that there are so few people invested in it in such a high population.

So what explains the states with a very high population and a very low meth lab incident record? Do they have smarter meth makers? More discreet meth makers? Are they importing meth from other places? Is there less meth demand? Less reporting? Maybe urban police feel like they have bigger issues to worry about. Certainly there’s more access to “better” and less visually-scarring drugs. Although it seems unlikely that the answer is that they simply don’t have any meth labs. No matter how many cocaine snorting businessmen you cram into a city, there’s still going to be a sizable number of meth smoking hicks, and meth snorting hicks, and meth booty bumping hicks.

Seriously, if you’re on meth, you’re a hick, and the lab map seems to support that. Discovered labs seem to be primarily located in the Midwest, with a sliver of the West Coast and the Gulf trying to catch up.

For the most part, large numbers of meth labs don’t seem to be concentrated around big cities, with St. Louis and Tulsa being the notable exceptions. This coincides with the primarily Midwest thing and the rural white trash thing. Additionally, making meth is a smelly process, something that probably gets noticed more in high density populations with more people with olfactory senses (doesn’t explain the lack in NYC though, where people smoke just to kill their sense of smell).

Maybe rural police, comparatively, are more zealous in the pursuit of meth lab discovery (see: police mistakenly bust homemade maple syrup operation thinking it’s a meth lab). Maybe rural police just have fuckall else to do. Maybe rural police are smoking their evidence. Or maybe, just maybe, rural police have figured out the ultimate way to track down meth cooks: looking out for an inexplicable fondness for green beans with slivered almonds:

It's not just pot that can give you the munchies.


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