MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Police officers throughout the state are busting more methamphetamine labs than ever before, partly because a compact disc is giving them enough training to recognize the telltale signs of the drug.
Paul Stevens, a special agent for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said in 1999 he was seeing labs pop up across the state, but nobody was trained to handle the dangerous people and chemicals involved and officers were getting hurt.
Stevens, a drug investigator for 20 years, and several of the other program developers took a meth-lab training session from California drug agents, but it didn't address the problems facing Minnesota.
So they created their own four-hour program, which has been presented more than 200 times in the past 2 1/2 years. Stevens said they've also sent out 3,000 CDs to 120,000 people who might run into meth or a user in their jobs.
Every law enforcement agency and fire department in Minnesota has received the CD. The Chicago office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a police agency in Australia and the fire chief of Detroit have asked for it.
The training explains what meth does to users, what the drug looks like and the potential dangers at each production stage. At least 20 public safety personnel each year were being injured by chemical exposure or fumes, but the numbers are shrinking, Stevens said.
"We've had officers pick up labs, put them in their squad cars and bring them to an evidence room," Stevens said, noting that the labs can contaminate everything they touch.
Stevens and the four other people who developed the training program will receive an outstanding service award next month from the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association.
Skip Van Patten, head of the DEA region that includes Minnesota, said he has no doubt the growing number of people the program has trained contributed to the increase in lab seizures. The year before training started, the state closed 47 labs.
Nearly 170 meth labs have been busted so far this year, 30 more than in all of 2000. Officials expect more than 300 labs to be taken down, at least in part due to the CD and other training by the five people who developed the program.
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