by Anna Schecter, ABC News
Methamphetamine "cooks" are using coffee makers and microwaves in hotel rooms of national hotel chains to heat the highly toxic chemical ingredients to make the drug.
Ramada Inn, Holiday Inn, LaQuinta, Radisson and even the upscale Biltmore hotel chains in and around Atlanta have been used for making and dealing the drug, according to law enforcement officials.
"It's a misconception that just because you're staying in a nice place, you're safe from the chemical hazards of a meth lab," said Jesse Hambrick, Narcotics Agent for the Douglas County Police Force in Georgia. "It worries me no matter where I stay when I travel."
Hambrick has been fighting meth since 1994 and says hotel room labs are by far the hardest to bust, especially high-end hotels with scaled-up security. "It's very difficult to do surveillance, very difficult to identify suspects in a car and very difficult to get past management that wants to protect the privacy of its customer."
Public health officials say a minor chemical spill in a hotel could be deadly, not only for the meth "cook" but also for other guests staying in the hotel.
"Phosphine gas is just one of the many highly toxic gases that can escape during the manufacture of meth. Emergency response has totally changed due to methamphetamine use, and yes, the gases can be deadly," said Dr. Raymond Fowler of the CDC in Dallas.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association told ABC News Tuesday that the hotel room labs are very costly to the lodging industry. In a statement, the AH&LA said, "Methamphetamine labs are highly volatile, which is one reason why these labs are set up in hotel and motel guest rooms instead of personal residences. After the hazardous materials are removed by a Hazmat team, the clean up of the room can cost the property anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000."
The AH&LA says it opposes methamphetamine labs in lodging facilities "as they are illegal and pose a threat to the safety of our guests, employees and the community." It says the industry is working with law enforcement officials to stop this activity and to ensure proper remediation of the methamphetamine lab chemicals and implements.
Two weeks ago, the House passed a bill requiring the federal government to develop guidelines for cleaning up former meth labs. The bill is now in the Senate for consideration.
Methamphetamine use is still the No. 1 drug problem in many communities across the United States, according to DEA officials. The number of labs in the U.S., however, has decreased due to the nationwide ban on over-the-counter pseudoephedrine put in place last year.
Today 80 percent of the meth used in the U.S. is manufactured in "superlabs" in Mexico and is trafficked across the border. The dealers then sell it to individuals, often out of hotel rooms, according to DEA.
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