Birmingham meth craze

By on November 6, 2012

While conducting a study on tracking substances on U.S. currency from different states, undergraduate students Jessi Mann and Brandon Fultz found traces of methamphetamine on U.S. currency in Birmingham for the first time in four years.

Trace of crystal meth are being found on U.S. currency in Birmingham. Wikimedia Commons

The findings will contribute to a larger study that is conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Forensic Sciences.

The study will determine whether it is possible to track the spread of meth through a region, and the results will be published in the DEA’s Microgram Journal later this year.

“There was not a specific substance we were looking for, just what came out as being significant. By the end of the REU program, I had analyzed 190 bills from 14 states. Cocaine and methamphetamine were the two most common controlled substances from the bills analyzed but we found a small number of bills with other controlled substances also,” said Mann.

The study was lead by the National Science Foundation (NSF), UAB’s Criminal Justice Department, UAB faculty, and head mentor Dr. Kent Kerley.

This summer, Mann and Fultz attended UAB’s crime Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program spanning to eight weeks, made possible with a NSF grant to Department of Justice Sciences.

“The program allowed me to jump into forensic work head first. It allowed me to grow as a person, as a future forensic scientist, and as a UAB student,” said Mann. ”It’s a great program right here on campus made possible by UAB and NSF. I cannot give them enough credit!”

The students tested four sets of 20 one dollar bills from Jefferson County. Two sets came from a home-improvement store north Jefferson County, one set from a fast-food restaurant in downtown Birmingham, and the last from a home-improvement store in west Jefferson County.

Seventeen out of twenty bills that were contaminated with meth were found on the bills from a home-improvement store in north Jefferson County whereas two out of twenty bills were found in downtown Birmingham.

“We used an acid base extraction to pull the substances from the bills. Then the solutions were placed into the GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) to be analyzed,” said Mann. “ The research did produce regional differences in terms of what substances were present. The percentage of methamphetamine positives were higher than past experiments done in this lab.”

The meth craze in Birmingham has either decreased or downplayed. However, it seems to be making a quick comeback, especially in northern Alabama.

“Detecting methamphetamine on US bills is new. Most studies have focused on correlating the amount of cocaine contaminating a bill to drug trafficking. For example, if there is more than 70 monograms of cocaine on a bill, its ‘drug money.’ But, by far and large, that’s been unsuccessful, because most currency is contaminated with cocaine,” said Elizabeth Gardner, Ph.D., mentor to Fultz and justice sciences assistant professor.

Last week, evidence of methamphetamine manufacturing was found in Huntsville, AL.

After receiving local tips, another meth lab was found in Limestone County, which warranted seven people’s arrests.

Last month, the Etowah County Drug Enforcement Unit found three and a half pounds in a Gadsden home of what is believed to be pure meth imported from Mexico.

“Part of my research included creating a theory for the increased number of methamphetamine positives. In the last few years, cocaine purity has been decreased while the price has increased. Most of the ingredients to make methamphetamine can be purchased at the neighborhood store. When these factors are put together with statistics like drug seizures or clandestine lab busts, it points to increased methamphetamine use overall,” said Mann.

Gardener suggests that methamphetamine use is either higher in rural areas or methamphetamine abuse is on the rise.

“The bills from Birmingham had the fewest number of methamphetamine contaminated bills. It could be that methamphetamine abuse is higher in rural areas than urban. Or, it could mean that methamphetamine abuse is on the rise. We need to test a lot more bills from more locations before we can draw any more conclusions,” said Gardner.

Fultz, Mann, and UAB Department of Justice Sciences have continued to work on this project and expect to conduct more research regarding substances found on U.S. currency.

Kaylyn Alexander
Staff Writer
kaylyn@uab.edu

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