By Michael Cashman, DEA Special Agent (Ret)
Over the past 6 years law enforcement and other public safety agencies have faced unique, and ever-evolving challenges. We have all risen to face these threats – first with the rise of fentanyl and synthetic opioids, and more recently, with the threat of COVID-19. We have developed training and tactics to deal with these threats – but are we doing enough to prepare for the future? Particularly, with the ever-changing nature of narcotics?
Just this past May, Los Angeles fire fighters responded to a structure fire that contained a marijuana business that specialized in the manufacturing of Butane Honey Oil. BHO is the extraction of THC from marijuana plants. 11 fighters were injured in this fire. (God bless our heroes who responded to this location and we wish them a speedy recovery.)
Whenever I hear about a fire at a lab, the first questions that come to my mind are:
- Polar solvent or non-polar solvent?
- Closed loop systems ?
- Is there open blasting?
- What about the LEL ?
These are some of the hazards associated with THC extraction labs. I know this because during my time at the DEA, we trained to deal with these types of hazards.
So let us look to the future. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every level of our society, including the world of illegal narcotics. Open source documents indicate the illegal drug manufacturers have had their chemical supply chains severely disrupted, yet like any successful enterprise, they have adapted quickly to overcome these difficulties.
How does this impact our public safety agencies? It means we’re going to see things we likely have not encountered before.
A former colleague of mine recently conducted a raid on a “Foxy Methoxy Lab” also known as a 5-MeO-DIPT. How many first responders know of the high hazards associated with this type lab – or even know what one looks like? With the disruption of chemicals utilized to manufacture P2P Methamphetamine south of the border, are we going to see a resurgence in Red P Tweaker, or one pot methamphetamine labs?
Methamphetamine abuse and overdoses are increasing every year. How are methamphetamine manufacturers going to meet the demand for their product? What about the access to the dark web? Are we going to see more MDMA, LSD or NN-DMT labs?
These are the questions you need to ask yourself and your agency. How do you prepare to face these threats?
The answer is training, training and more training. Dust off your old SOP’s, review them and make sure they’re up-to-date. Too often, the retirement of veteran officers and agents leads to the loss of institutional knowledge. We need to memorialize this information before the “dinosaurs” go.
Appoint someone to keep up on new and reemerging trends. Check open sources like YouTube to see the latest like how to order things like Synthetic Cannabinoids. Type in Salvia and watch people smoke it and the physical and mental effects of the drug on them. What you see will make you shake your head. Bring someone from outside your agency to do an emerging drug and narcotics class giving your agency a different perspective. But above all else, remember: nothing beats hands-on training for your agency.
The future is unwritten when it comes to new and reemerging drug trends. But to do our job effectively, we need to anticipate and train for the next wave of threats before they arrive in our communities.
About the author:
Michael Cashman is retired Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent. A 23 year veteran of the DEA, Mr. Cashman served on the San Diego Field Division Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team, as well as the DEA Office of Training Clandestine Laboratory Unit located at Quantico, VA. As one of the leading experts on clandestine labs and narcotics manufacturing, Mr.Cashman now works as a consultant, training law enforcement agencies across the country on these topics.