With the opening of firearms deer season this weekend, the Indiana State Police is warning hunters to avoid touching and moving items they find in the woods that may be associated with clandestine methamphetamine production.Meth lab

It’s an unfortunate and disturbing sign of the times in middle America.

Across portions of the nation’s heartland, illegal use of the highly addictive substance—and its production—is considered epidemic.

In one Hoosier county alone, Noble, authorities have reportedly seized 62 meth labs so far in 2008—up from 34 last year and 24 the year before.

Indiana State Police Trooper Rob Smith told the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette this week that meth production used to be a somewhat complicated endeavor that required the highly toxic farming fertilizer anhydrous ammonia, which often was stolen from farm supply stores.

But beginning earlier this year, the trooper said a change started taking place, and more illegal cooking operators switched to what he called the “one-pot method,” which produces smaller quantities of the drug but doesn’t create the telltale fumes or require anhydrous ammonia.Methamphetamine4

Trooper Smith told the Ft.Wayne paper that not only has the method led to an increase in production in urban areas, but it also makes it easier for producers to dump their garbage in the woods or on a roadside. Police recently arrested a man who had a one-pot lab in his backpack, he said.

In a joint statement issued this week, the Indiana State Police and Department of Natural Resources offered the following advice for the estimated 250,000 Indianans heading out for deer hunting this weekend, as the firearms season opens November 15:

-Methamphetamine “cooks” use a variety of containers to manufacture the drug, and small gas cans are popular. Don’t pick up a discarded gas can, even if it looks new.

-Other trash that could indicate a meth lab: Battery casings, clear plastic bags, empty blister packs and containers such as pop bottles and jars.

-Be careful of any discarded cylinder with a modified valve; it could have contained the volatile chemical anhydrous ammonia.