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To Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
Kentucky Drug Threat Assessment
July 2002


Methamphetamine is the most rapidly emerging threat to Kentucky, particularly in the rural areas of the state. The level of methamphetamine production, distribution, abuse, and violence has increased dramatically and is spreading across the state from west to east. The number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased 42 percent from fiscal year 1998 through fiscal year 2000, more than for any other drug. Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of Mexico-produced methamphetamine and methamphetamine produced in California and southwestern states. The recent increase of locally produced methamphetamine may have eclipsed the amount of Mexico-produced methamphetamine transported into the state. The number of methamphetamine laboratories seized increased dramatically from 1998 through 2001, exceeding the capacity of local law enforcement agencies to adequately conduct investigations and clean up the hazardous chemicals associated with methamphetamine production. The Birch reduction method, also known as the Nazi method, is the most common methamphetamine production method used in Kentucky. Local independent Caucasian dealers and criminal groups dominate the retail distribution of methamphetamine in the state. Methamphetamine sales usually are pre-arranged and occur in bars, restaurants, private vehicles, and residences.


Of all treatment admissions for illicit drugs in Kentucky between FY1998 and FY2000, methamphetamine accounted for the largest percentage increase. During that time, treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased 42 percent overall, from 443 in FY1998 to 631 in FY2000, according to the Kentucky Division of Substance Abuse. Treatment data indicate that methamphetamine abuse is greatest in counties bordering the Ohio River in western Kentucky, but abuse appears to be spreading eastward. Data for the first 4 months of FY2001 suggest an increase in the number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse in southern, central, and eastern Kentucky.

Treatment data from FY1998 through FY2000 indicate that 64 percent of all methamphetamine-related treatment admissions were male, 97 percent were Caucasian, 2 percent were African American, and 97 percent were adults over age 19. Most methamphetamine-related treatment admissions were between the ages of 20 and 44, and admissions were divided equally between abusers in urban and rural areas. According to the Kentucky Division of Substance Abuse, although methamphetamine abuse accounted for only 2 percent of treatment admissions for all drugs during this period, state officials believe the number of untreated methamphetamine abusers is substantially greater due to the dramatic increase in the number of laboratories seized in the state.

Methamphetamine is attracting a new user population in Kentucky. Once regarded as an adult drug, methamphetamine is increasingly popular among adolescents because of the heightened physical and mental effects it produces. Young people at rave parties are using it to increase and prolong their energy levels. Young women are attracted to methamphetamine because of its purported ability to promote weight loss.

Methamphetamine can be taken orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. Data from treatment centers throughout Kentucky from FY1998 through FY2000 identify the following methods of administration: 41 percent ingested methamphetamine orally, 27 percent inhaled it, 16 percent smoked it, and 13 percent injected it. The number of abusers who inhaled or smoked the drug increased during this period, while the number of those who ingested the drug orally decreased slightly.

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The availability of methamphetamine continues to increase in Kentucky, particularly in the northern and western areas of the state that border the Ohio River Valley. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Detroit Division reports that this increase is attributed not only to a greater quantity of the drug smuggled from Mexico but also to an increase in local production. The DEA Louisville Resident Office reports that methamphetamine is increasingly available throughout its jurisdiction. Daviess County law enforcement officials report that methamphetamine availability, as well as the number of distributors and abusers, is increasing. A narcotics officer for Daviess County reported that 99 percent of his investigations are methamphetamine-related.

Methamphetamine price data do not reflect any consistent pattern or trend. According to the DEA Detroit Division, methamphetamine prices in Louisville have increased slightly for gram quantities and decreased significantly for pound quantities. In 1995 a gram of methamphetamine sold for $100 in Louisville. In 2000 the price ranged from $100 to $120 per gram. In Louisville methamphetamine sold for $13,000 per pound in 1995 and $6,000 to $10,000 in 2000. According to a 2000 survey of Kentucky State Police, methamphetamine sold for as little as $50 per gram and as much as $200 per gram; the statewide average price was $106 per gram in 2000.



Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant that affects the central nervous system, and its abusers often exhibit violent tendencies. Symptoms associated with prolonged abuse such as paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, or mood disturbances--combined with severe sleep deprivation--can result in unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior. Law enforcement officials in Kentucky report that domestic violence and child abuse may be linked to methamphetamine production and abuse, a relationship that has been documented in other states. According to the Owensboro Police Department, the increase in methamphetamine-related violence in its jurisdiction is directly related to the increase in methamphetamine production.

Two Men Charged With Attempted Murder

On February 7, 2001, two Logan County men were charged with attempted murder of a Kentucky State Police trooper and production of methamphetamine. While attempting to flee with a mobile methamphetamine laboratory, the men injured two troopers. The troopers had stopped the car and ordered the men to exit the vehicle when the driver suddenly backed up in an attempt to escape and hit one officer who was thrown over the fleeing car. The other trooper fired his firearm at the driver striking him in the right thigh and arm. The suspects were apprehended less than a mile from the scene by another trooper.

Source: Kentucky State Police, Post 2, Madisonville.

The physical and psychological effects of methamphetamine abuse are profound. Methamphetamine's stimulant effects can last for hours compared with minutes-long effects of crack cocaine. Often, the methamphetamine abuser remains awake for days, and as the high begins to wear off, the individual enters the tweaking stage and is prone to violence, delusions, and paranoia. Many methamphetamine abusers try to mediate the effects of the methamphetamine "crash" with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin.


During the tweaking stage, the user often has not slept in days and, consequently, is extremely irritable. The "tweaker" also craves more methamphetamine, which results in frustration and contributes to anxiety and restlessness. In this stage, the methamphetamine abuser may become violent without provocation. Case histories indicate that tweakers have become antagonized at the mere sight of a police uniform.

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Methamphetamine production in Kentucky is increasing significantly. Methamphetamine laboratory seizures increased dramatically from FY1998 through FY2001 in Kentucky. There were 18 laboratories seized in FY1998, 77 in FY1999, 145 in FY2000, and 262 in FY2001. The DEA London Resident Office reports that although most methamphetamine laboratories are seized in the western part of the state, seizures in eastern Kentucky are increasing. The recent increase of locally produced methamphetamine may have eclipsed the amount of Mexico-produced methamphetamine transported into the state. According to the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts, 410 individuals were charged with methamphetamine production in FY1999. In FY2000 that number more than doubled to 839.

Methamphetamine laboratory operations have increased significantly in the Western Federal Judicial District and are spreading to the Eastern Federal Judicial District. Most of the DEA methamphetamine laboratory seizures have been confined to areas in the Western Federal District of Kentucky, primarily in the DEA Louisville Resident Office and Madisonville Post of Duty areas. From FY1998 through FY2001, there were 422 methamphetamine laboratories seized in the Western Federal Judicial District. In comparison, there were only 80 methamphetamine laboratories seized in the Eastern Federal Judicial District during the same period. Of the 80 methamphetamine laboratories seized in the Eastern Federal Judicial District over this 4-year period, 77 were seized in FY2001.

Table 1. Methamphetamine Laboratory Seizures, Kentucky, FY1998-FY2001

Fiscal Year Western District Kentucky Eastern District Kentucky
1998   18   0
1999   76   1
2000 143   2
2001 185 77

Source: DEA; Kentucky State Police; Kentucky Multijurisdictional Drug Task Forces.

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Local independent Caucasian producers are responsible for most of the methamphetamine produced within the state. Most law enforcement officials in Kentucky who responded to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2001 and other professionals indicate that local independent producers--primarily Caucasian males--are the predominant methamphetamine producers in Kentucky. Both the Hardin and Simpson County Sheriff's Offices report that local independent Caucasians are the predominant methamphetamine producers in their areas.

Methamphetamine Production Methods

   Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine Reduction:

Hydriodic acid/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydriodic acid, and red phosphorus. This method can yield multipound quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Iodine/red phosphorus. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, iodine, and red phosphorus. The required hydriodic acid in this variation of the hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method is produced by the reaction of iodine in water with red phosphorus. This method yields high quality d-methamphetamine. Another iodine/red phosphorus method, limited to small production batches, is called the cold cook method because the chemicals, instead of being heated, are placed in a hot environment such as the sun.

Birch. The principal chemicals are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, anhydrous ammonia, and sodium or lithium metal. Also known as the Nazi method, this method typically yields ounce quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is used by independent dealers and producers.


P2P. The principal chemicals are phenyl-2-propanone, aluminum, methylamine, and mercuric acid. This method yields lower quality dl-methamphetamine and has been associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs.

The Birch reduction method, also known as the Nazi method, is the most common methamphetamine production method used in Kentucky. Most law enforcement officials in western Kentucky who were contacted indicated that the Birch reduction method is predominant throughout their areas. Most seizures were of small laboratories located primarily in rural areas and capable of producing ounce or smaller quantities per cook. The Birch reduction method does not require extensive knowledge of chemistry or sophisticated laboratory equipment and is faster than the iodine/red phosphorus method. Small quantities of methamphetamine, usually a pound or less with a purity level of 90 percent, can be produced in less than an hour using the Birch reduction method. Mobility is another reason for the method's popularity. Laboratory operators using the Birch reduction method can pack the necessary chemicals and equipment in a box and assemble a laboratory anywhere. Common production sites are in the trunks of cars, in pickup truck beds, in apartments or motel rooms, and at outdoor locations such as deserted roads or campgrounds. The mobility of these "box laboratories" makes detection very difficult.

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In the Eastern Federal Judicial District where agriculture is limited, approximately half of the laboratories seized during FY2001 used the iodine/red phosphorus method. This was attributed to the limited availability of anhydrous ammonia--an agricultural chemical which is also a principal chemical used in the Birch reduction method--in the eastern portions of the state.

Methamphetamine laboratory operators using the Birch reduction method generally steal anhydrous ammonia to produce methamphetamine. They usually transfer the ammonia to propane tanks for transport. Propane tanks are not designed to store anhydrous ammonia and can explode if the ammonia corrodes the tank valve or if the outside temperature rises causing the pressure inside the tank to build. Deteriorated tank valves are a frequent hazard because the valve may leak or break causing the hazardous gas to be released. The valves on propane tanks used to store anhydrous ammonia turn a bluish color that is easily identifiable. Law enforcement officers who discover propane tanks with this distinct discoloration should proceed with extreme caution and contact the nearest methamphetamine laboratory disposal unit. Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can cause blindness and severe burns to the skin, throat, and lungs.

Farmers typically store anhydrous ammonia in large tanks in fields. The increased number of thefts of anhydrous ammonia indicates the growing use of the Birch reduction method. Thieves remove locks from these tanks with bolt cutters and use garden or vacuum hoses to siphon the ammonia from the tanks. Because tanks may hold as much as 100,000 gallons and a theft may involve as little as 1 or 2 gallons, the theft may go undetected. Hoses attached to the larger tanks, depending on the size and length of the hose, may contain a sufficient amount of ammonia for limited production of methamphetamine. Production may take place near the tank site, and the waste from the production process may be the only sign that a theft occurred. Tanks that are placed in well-lit areas may be less vulnerable, but extra lighting does not always guarantee theft prevention.

Danger of Anhydrous Ammonia

Anhydrous ammonia misuse is dangerous to the public, law enforcement officers, and laboratory operators. In September 2001 an anhydrous ammonia leak produced an ammonia cloud that forced authorities in Daviess County to evacuate homes and buildings within a half-mile of a farm supply store for over 3 hours in the middle of the night. The ammonia leak forced authorities to shut down a western Kentucky highway, caused a series of traffic accidents, and sent seven people for treatment at a hospital in nearby Owensboro. The leak of approximately 1,000 gallons of ammonia was the result of a botched theft. It occurred when a hose used to transfer ammonia from a 1,000-gallon tank into a portable container dislodged. Also in Daviess County, five people were injured in April 1999 when a canister of anhydrous ammonia exploded in a cooler inside a car. One of the passengers received severe burns to his body and was hospitalized. Authorities believe the ammonia had been stolen from a farm supply company.

The methamphetamine production process typically yields 5 to 7 pounds of hazardous waste for each pound of finished product. Discarded chemicals have been discovered in public parks, near schools, and in commercial trash receptacles. The chemical waste at these dumpsites presents explosion, fire, and health risks, as well as environmental hazards that may persist for decades. The toxic by-products of methamphetamine production can damage the environment, including the soil, water supplies, and even sewage systems. Local authorities do not have the technical or financial resources to investigate and remediate these toxic sites. Whether dumped directly onto the ground or placed in containers that will eventually corrode and leak, toxic waste can make the soil barren and poison local water sources. Water supplies in rural areas may be at greater risk than urban water supplies. Rural areas usually have no system in place to monitor water supplies for contamination, which may result in farmers unknowingly using contaminated water to irrigate crops and water livestock. Urban areas, despite having sophisticated, centralized water management systems that undergo systematic testing and treatment, are also vulnerable.

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Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of methamphetamine produced in Mexico, California, and southwestern states. The drug is transported into Kentucky from Mexico through California and southwestern states and from Chicago, Illinois. The methamphetamine normally is transported in 1- to 3-pound quantities to urban areas of Kentucky, such as Covington, Lexington, and Louisville, using commercial and private vehicles. Nearly all of this methamphetamine remains in these urban areas, although some may be transported to outlying areas for distribution. It is sold to Caucasian males who are local independent dealers or members of a criminal group.

Local independent Caucasian distributors are the dominant transporters of locally produced methamphetamine. The drug is generally consumed close to where it is produced and is transported via private vehicles from the laboratory site for distribution. Frequently, the laboratory operator is also the local retail distributor. The Owensboro and Bowling Green Police Departments have both reported that local independent dealers are the dominant transporters of locally produced methamphetamine in their areas.

Kentucky's rural environment and improved road network provide many opportunities for laboratory operators to transport methamphetamine. Interstate 64 transects the mountains of eastern Kentucky, and I-24 extends through the rural hills of western Kentucky. Most of the state's interstate highways, together with the Western Kentucky, Cumberland, and Daniel Boone Parkways, provide convenient access between secluded wilderness and rural laboratory locations and urban and suburban precursor supply locations. Of Kentucky's 120 counties, 95 are rural with fewer than 100 people per square mile. Remote areas between towns and cities are expanses of remote areas that provide low risk of detection for laboratory operators.



Mexican criminal groups are the primary wholesale distributors of Mexico-produced methamphetamine and methamphetamine produced in California and southwestern states. These criminal groups sell the methamphetamine in urban areas primarily to Caucasian criminal groups and local independent Caucasian dealers--the dominant retail distributors of Mexico-produced, locally produced, and southwestern U.S.-produced methamphetamine in Kentucky. Some Mexican criminal groups are also beginning to distribute methamphetamine at the retail level. Caucasian distributors may sell all of the methamphetamine to friends and associates, they may keep a portion of the product for personal use and then distribute the rest, or they may divide the amount purchased into smaller quantities and sell it to other Caucasian retail distributors.

Locally produced methamphetamine, typically produced in small quantities, normally is not sold at the wholesale level in Kentucky. Retail distribution usually involves a small group of Caucasian dealers who produce the drug. This group comprises the laboratory operator and the individuals buying and stealing the precursor chemicals needed for production. Retail sales normally are prearranged and occur in bars, restaurants, private vehicles, and residences.


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