Every year, methamphetamine use grows in Southwest Virginia. The new method for people who make meth in plastic bottles is so simple, but also incredibly harmful.
Bottles are left behind at each crime scene forcing local jurisdictions to pay contractors to drive across the state to clean them up safely. It can cost thousands of dollars.
But that's all about to change.
Off a country road in Christiansburg, deputies with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office stack buckets of evidence for our cameras. Inside is the toxic waste left over from making meth; soda bottles are almost always used to make the drug.
"I see the problem getting worse," says sheriff Tommy Whitt. "Because once they take that meth the first time, it's hard to say no the second time."
Whitt has seen about thirty so-called "one-pot" meth labs in his county just this year. It's the most for any county in our area but just look at how many labs have been busted in Southwest Virginia in 2013.
Now the Drug Enforcement Administration with help from State Police, is placing more than a dozen containers in places where the meth problem is the worst.
One is already in use off Interstate 81 in Wythe County. Each law enforcement agency is training a few of its investigators to dispose of the waste in this new way.
When a "one-pot" meth lab is found, the deadly hydrogen chloride gas is slowly leaked out of the cap. The chemical reaction, called "rolling," forms a sludge at the bottom; flakes of a special plastic, called imbiber beads, are poured in to make an inert gel. The bottle is placed inside a bucket with filler material for protection. Then the bucket is sealed and brought to the metal container at a secure location
"They're transported here until a contractor comes at the end of the month to dispose of everything," says State Police Lt. Jason Robinson.
The private contractor still costs money, as do all the materials needed in the process. Cities, towns and counties will still pay the price of cleanup, but the cost is drastically reduced. Currently, each lab costs up to $3000 for a sheriff's office or police department. In the new way, it's around $350.
Instead of waiting for the disposal company to come, officers will do it themselves, freeing them up to move on to the next call.
"The ability to have our men and women trained in dealing with these one-pot cooks, it's going to give me the ability to return them to their regular duties," says Whitt.
"We can take the job of that hazardous waste contractor, we'll neutralize the labs, we'll package the labs, we'll transport it and put it in the container, " says Robinson.
And if you're hoping the meth problem will go away, these stats from State Police say otherwise:
Meth Labs found in Virginia*
2009 28 (first "one-pot" discovered in fall of '09)
2013 287 (YTD)
*There currently is no requirement for jurisdictions to report labs to the state. These numbers are State Police estimates.
Everyone should be using these containers after the first of the year. When asked about how to reduce addiction, most officers say the solution is up to lawmakers.
Don't be surprised if they take a hard look at making allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine prescription only, so people can't group together, called "smurfing," to buy multiple boxes at once.