Liquid in a glass flask caught fire in the midst of Stanley Smith's cooking. Then another and another. Flammable liquid spilled across the stovetop, and flames raced up the wall.
His buddies ran screaming around the house in terror while the strung-out Smith dunked sheets in a bathtub of water to smother the fire.
It was just part of the cost of doing business for a methamphetamine cook.
Nothing slowed his pursuit of a constant high. Not fires, not going 30 days without sleep, not shopping at numerous stores to buy dozens of boxes of pseudoephedrine tablets, then methodically popping hundreds of them from bubble packs.
“That's desperation for you,” Smith said. “Or, determination.”
He spent part of his four years in prison learning the latest manufacturing methods. But today he's been drug-free for four years and participates in a prison ministry to turn drug abusers around.
Smith said a state bill to require a doctor's prescription to buy tablets containing pseudoephedrine probably would slow meth cooking.
“Do anything to stop it,” he said. “Ban it.”
He said some drug abusers may find other means of getting pseudoephedrine to make meth, if tablets become prescription-only, but many won't go to the trouble of doing that.
The bill is dead now, but the prescription requirement could be revived this year as an amendment to other legislation, said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, co-author of the bill. But more likely, the bill will be reintroduced next year, he said. Opposition to the bill has come from pharmaceutical companies, who say it would be a hardship for people with colds and allergies.
Meth deaths and labs have been rising since 2008 on a parallel path. Oklahoma agents last year found a total of 818 of the “shake-and-bake” or “one-pot” labs, compared with 743 in 2009.
Autopsy reports show meth overdose deaths rose to 89 last year from 61 the year before. More autopsy reports from last year will continue to trickle in, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control.
Cox said the drug abuse problems and injuries he sees as an emergency room physician are staggering. He's haunted by the people with telltale bad teeth and health problems, and the kids in foster care because their parents are in drug rehab or jail for methamphetamine use and, oftentimes, child neglect.
Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton said meth problems are rampant in his northeastern Oklahoma county, and he wants the pseudoephedrine tablets he uses for his allergies to be prescription-only. Walton said it would throw off the meth makers, even if some eventually find new methods of manufacturing drugs.
“It's like letting a bank robber go by saying, ‘Oh, he'll just get another gun and go rob another one,'” he said.
District attorneys David Prater and Eddie Wyant also strongly favor requiring prescriptions for the tablets. Wyant, district attorney for Ottawa and Delaware counties, said meth-making comes with extreme human and monetary costs that are becoming more evident in the meth hotbed in northeastern Oklahoma.
“You've got houses and apartments going up in flames,” Wyant said. “There's the contamination of these hotel rooms or your rental house when they make meth. Maybe they didn't burn it or blow it up, but now there are carcinogens all over your property.”
Crimes tied to meth
A number of recent high-
Three children died Jan. 4, trapped inside a burning motor home in Del City. Parents Stephanie Mae Dunham, 25, and Christopher Lee Dunham, 25, were charged with child neglect and methamphetamine possession.
Cooking utensils and material for making meth were found, and the children's mother tested positive for meth, said Prater, Oklahoma County district attorney.
Only 10 meth labs were found last year in Oklahoma County, compared with more than 300 in Tulsa County, Prater said.
“But it's just a matter of time before we're going to see this in every county in the state,” he said.
Prescription pseudoephedrine laws are under consideration in 16 states. Prater said a big concern is that surrounding states such as Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas have passed or are considering bills to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine tablets.
“If they do that, we are fearful that will cause meth cooks to migrate into Oklahoma,” he said.
Wyant said the bill proposing a prescription for pseudoephedrine tablets died the same day news hit about a big fire in a Tulsa suburb caused by a methamphetamine lab.