Clandestine Synthetic Drug Laboratories

When you think of "clandestine laboratories" (clan labs) you picture technicians wearing protective glasses, gloves and masks, secure, ventilated and clean premises, pipettes, burners and smoking beakers sitting on marble benchtops? You believe that each ingredient is scrupulously selected from a shelf where each component is clearly identified and commercially labeled? If that's what you think, you will be doubly shocked by what follows!

The expression "clan lab" refers to any location where drugs are grown, produced or prepared. Under the Criminal Code, these labs operate in total illegality, whether in Quebec or in Canada.

Not in my backyard?

First shocking truth: clandestine synthetic drug production labs, i.e. 100% chemical based, can be found anywhere: motel rooms, rental trucks, abandoned warehouses, apartments, garden sheds, garages, barns, etc., in any neighbourhoods both in urban and rural areas. Smaller mobile labs can even be concealed in car trunks or truck boxes! The reason for this is simple: some types of production require very little equipment and external electrical supply (artificial light, heat, venting or moisture), compared to marihuana grow operations for example.

Clan labs are generally well concealed. For smaller ones, a kitchen will do – with the stove serving as a source of heat. Hot plates can also be used in a garage. The location is chosen with no consideration given to the fact that toxic, volatile and explosive substances will be handled and processed by individuals who often have no knowledge of chemistry.

Situation in Quebec

(Above photos) Typical insalubrity found in many clandestine laboratories/Clan lab hidden in a rich-looking house garage.

Another shocking truth: the province of Quebec is known as a major synthetic drug producer in Canada. Methamphetamine (street named meth or speed) and MDMA (also called ecstasy) are the two most widely known illicit substances.

The drugs produced in Quebec supply both local and international markets. Clan labs are therefore bigger and very productive. They require extensive equipment and systems for the various stages of production. Some drugs are so easy to make that criminals recruit "cooks" without any scientific training. These cooks simply follow a recipe using ingredients identified only with letters. A blindly dangerous behaviour!

While many types of individuals are associated to clan labs, their modus operandi and motives are the same. Clan labs are generally operated by organized crime – the powerful market ruler – reaping most of the profits. Why? To make money, a lot of money, fast, without a thought for the health and safety of drug users. The presence of clan labs leads to increased criminal activity in the area where they are set up. Synthetic drug trafficking is also used by organized crime to fund many other criminal activities at the expense of society.

Facing the risks

Clan lab operating in a basement house.

Clan labs are real time bombs, always synonym of poisoned air, contaminated walls, and toxic environments. Those living around clan labs – sometimes including children unfortunately – will suffer short, medium and long term consequences on their health.

They put their own lives at risk as well as the lives of other residents and neighbours since accidents (fire, explosion, burns, electrocution) are common place. Often, first responders (police officers, firefighters, paramedics) are the first victims of the risks incurred by the community.

Unfortunately, detecting clandestine synthetic drug labs can be difficult. The signs may not be significant. Guard dogs, surveillance cameras, curtains always drawn are not necessarily evidence but could be signs of the presence of a clan lab.

Fire broke out in a kitchen used as a clan lab.
Extreme safety measures taken by dismantling teams to face very high toxicity and danger of explosion or fire on the location

A few facts to keep in mind

  • No clandestine laboratory is without risk.
  • Clandestine tablet production labs pose a risk of explosion, fire, skin and air contamination caused by the toxicity of the substances stored and chemical reactions sparked by approximate and hazardous recipes.
  • The presence of a clan lab in your environment is certainly not desirable.
  • The public plays a key role in ensuring community safety by abiding by the law, cooperating with the police and reporting information on any illicit activity.

The public plays a key role in ensuring community safety by abiding by the law, cooperating with the police and reporting information on any illicit activity.

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