The AMC drama "Breaking Bad" centers on the dark and dangerous world of high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook Walter White. While the television show may be fiction, the methamphetamine problem in northeastern and central Pennsylvania is very real. Raids on meth labs have become an all too common sight in our region. "They're popping up everywhere" said John Soprano -- Regional Director, PA Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, "Because it's so easy, it's definitely a problem."
Mr. Soprano, with the State Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, shows the basic household ingredients meth makers use -- roughly $28 in items that just about anyone has in their home. "You can buy your Coleman fuel. You can buy your liquid heat. You can buy your drain cleaner, your cold packs. You know all of this stuff is easily attainable." said Soprano
Recipes to make meth are spread by word of mouth or on line. The key medicinal ingredient is the nasal and sinus drug pseudo-ephedrine. The federal government limits how much of it you can buy. Meth cooks get around that by recruiting buyers nicknamed smurfs including some who hold rank. "They call them Papa Smurfs. They might have two people in charge of recruiting other people to go out and then they turn them over to the Papa Smurf who takes them back and gives them to the cook," said Mr. Soprano
The volatile meth labs can pose a direct danger to the public. "There's the propensity for them to explode, catch on fire, and it doesn't take much. They stop paying attention or get a little reckless. I mean it's nothing for them to set a house on fire as we saw with the one just up in Pittston." added Mr. Soprano.
That "one" on Tompkins Street in Pittston is now condemned. Police say the suspect, Kevin Hall, was cooking meth there in late September after running previous meth labs this year in Mocanaqua and Jenkins Township. This time it ended in flames. "The fire started in the basement. The meth lab... maybe it could have blown up or exploded or something." said Joe Glazenski of Pittston who is upset that meth turned up in this Pittston neighborhood he called home for 45 years. "There's so much now than when you and I grew up that today is so much worse out there, you know." said Mr. Glazenski.
When concerned nearby neighbor Michael Topolosky of Pittston was aware meth manufacturing was going on in his neighborhood he replied, "No I did not." Meth labs like the one that police recently shut down in Pittston often operate with little if any knowledge on the part of neighbors. However, there are things you can look for to see if meth making is in your midst. "You have a lot of traffic coming to the house. " said Soprano "One of the big things you'll see is a lot of pseudoephedrine packets, like the little blister packets empty," said Mr. Soprano.
When it comes to meth labs, Mr. Topolosky who is a father of two young daughters has one wish.
"I want to see them gone. That's all I want."