LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – A drug raid at a hotel this July is the latest in a series of methamphetamine busts in La Crosse.
"So far this year we've had approximately 40 arrests for methamphetamine use. Both use and manufacturing," said La Crosse Police Sgt. Randy Rank.
La Crosse police have seen significant an increase in meth arrests since 2011, partially because of the easy access to ingredients, Rank said.
Meth can be made out of common household items including drain cleaner, cold packs and camping fuel.
That leads to an increase in household and mobile meth labs, better known as shake and bake labs, according to Tom Johnson, investigative coordinator with the West Central MEG Unit.
"These people have figured out a way to put all the ingredients in one vessel – usually a 2-liter pop bottle or Gatorade-style bottle, something of that nature – and basically put all the ingredients in, and shake it, and start the reactions," Johnson said.
Johnson collaborates with five counties in Western Wisconsin.
He said while meth use has increased in all of them, it's difficult to give a specific number of meth labs he's seen.
When the unit investigates, they generally look at how many cooks there are.
For example, when the unit investigated a meth lab in Sparta, they looked at the residue on each bottle and determined one lab did about 30 separate meth cooks, Johnson said.
While meth use is dangerous for the people using it or running a lab, Johnson said labs also put the public in danger.
"At the right moment you can actually look in one of these vessels and see flames," he said. "So, the problem is they're obviously not made for chemical reactions. They're simply plastic soda bottles. And if the reaction gets out of hand, the pressure expands. If they don't gas it, the vessel can fail and it can explode or burn right in their lap."
Which was a police concern with a shake and bake lab found in a La Crosse hotel last month.
"(There's a) possibility of people in adjoining rooms where if there would have been some type of explosion or a fire, or a reaction with these chemicals, these other people could be affected by the manufacturing of the meth at that location," Rank said.
Law enforcement is being trained to better locate meth labs. With usage on the rise, they encourage the public to keep their eyes open for suspicious activity, too.
The number for La Crosse Area Crime Stopper's anonymous tip line is (608) 784-8477.
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