Burns from 'meth' fires cause concern

Burn centers, such as one in Augusta, report rise, dangers

An Augusta burn center says a new and more dangerous method of “cooking’ illegal meth is beginning to show up in emergency rooms across the Southeast.


Called the “shake and bake” method, this form of making meth is quick and mobile, using household items as ingredients and bypassing legal limits on the sale of pseudoephedrine -- common in many over-the-counter cold medicines.

“Shake and bake” has significant risks, said Dr. Fred Mullins, president and medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc.

“The ‘shake and bake’ method has become a bit of a pandemic,” he said. “People make it in the back seat of their car when they are driving around.”

Sgt. Allan Rollins, a narcotics investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, said his department is seeing more cases because the method is so simple compared to past methods.

“It used to be the labs were like high school chemistry labs,” he said. “They had glassware, burners and hoses. They’ve cut so many steps out, now they are down to a couple plastic bottles. They let the chemicals do the work.”

Because many meth labs are mobile, this new method is becoming more common, with 37 found by Augusta law enforcement in 2011.

“They used to call it the suitcase method because the labs could fit in a suitcase,” Rollins said. “But now they can throw it in a backpack and run. We find labs in cars, hotel rooms, houses, in all sorts of places.”

Although the procedure for making this meth might be simple, the dangers it poses still exist.

“It (the method) can cause an explosion, which results in bone fractures as well as deep chemical burns that continue to burn and worsen over the course of days,” said Dr. Mullins, of the burn center. “These patients are not here for a few days, but over a month or so.”

Not only do patients sustain thermal burns, but they also incur what Mullins called “blast burns.”

Patients who come into the center contaminated with dangerous chemicals also run the risk of contaminating the medical staff, not to mention the law enforcement who find them, the clean-up teams at the crime scene and even innocent pedestrians.

“Some people make burn piles in their backyard and burn the evidence rather than leaving it behind,” Rollins said. “Richmond County is ‘no burn’ without a permit, anyway, but here you have accelerants, plastics and chemicals burning out in the open. That poses a large threat. Your lips burn, your eyes water, and we are standing outside (the labs).”

Mullins said burn centers across the nation feel a financial strain from these patients because many are uninsured and the medical care is costly.



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