Clandestine laboratories

Sunday, 08 August, 2004

Clandestine drug laboratories present hazards and dangers to the community in all areas across Australia, including urban and rural centres. In addition to the detrimental effects illicit drugs have in our community, clandestine laboratories present toxic and explosive environments which have continually demonstrated risks to the health and wellbeing of the illicit operators, the police and the public.

In the past year alone, several drug laboratories have caused explosions, fires and significant hazardous contamination. In July 2003, a drug laboratory exploded in Western Sydney, NSW, causing serious burns to the offender who later died in hospital as a result of the injuries. Across Australia, Drug Squad officers attend hundreds of clandestine drug laboratories which have been established using chemicals, glassware and equipment sourced from chemical and scientific suppliers.

Police have a number of strategies developed with members from the pharmaceutical, scientific and chemical industry designed to identify those persons involved in acquiring precursor chemicals and equipment needed to establish drug laboratory sites. The intelligence obtained from industry co-operation is invaluable and has directly resulted in significant seizures and arrests for drug manufacture during the year 2003.

National Code of Practice

The National Code of Practice was established to provide a common system of practice for Australian chemical manufacturers, importers and distributors and scientific equipment and instrument suppliers. Essential strategies have been formulated relating to protection against diversion of essential chemicals and scientific equipment, co-operation with government and law enforcement, as well as the development of education and training programs for staff and end users of precursor chemicals and associated scientific equipment (Keith Evans, Chair, Inter Governmental Committee on Drugs, 2002).

Precursor chemicals and ancillary materials

Chemicals and ancillary materials known to have been used in the illicit manufacture of drugs are divided into three categories in the Code of Practice.

Category 1: Lists chemicals that require an end user declaration (EUD) with each purchase and may only be sold to 'account customers' or customers who are prepared to open an account. Supply of these chemicals to end users or distributors must be delayed for a period of not less than 24 hours.

Category 2: Lists chemicals and apparatus that require an EUD when sold to non-account customers.

Category 3: Lists chemicals and apparatus that may be used in the illicit production of drugs. Purchases from this list should alert companies or organisations to seek further indicators of any suspicious orders or enquiries. No official reporting is required for items on this list unless considered warranted.

Indications of suspicious purchasers:

  • A new customer;
  • A 'walk in' customer (personal appearance);
  • An offer to pay an excessive price for certain chemicals or apparatus for rapid delivery;
  • Cash payments, even for large purchases;
  • Purchases in small containers even when industrial use is claimed;
  • Requests to have the merchandise delivered in non-commercial or unmarked packaging;
  • Irregular ordering patterns and unusual quantities ordered;
  • Orders or purchases by persons or companies with no obvious need for these chemicals;
  • Indications of intended use that is inconsistent with the chemical ordered;
  • Merchandise that is collected with the purchaser's own vehicle;
  • Request for delivery by air freight;
  • Delivery to a post office box or other incomplete address;
  • Failure or unwillingness to supply a telephone number or an address;
  • Lack of business acumen and absence of standard business stationary;
  • Reluctance to supply a written order;
  • Orders for more than one precursor chemical;
  • Orders to universities or well-known companies where the normal arrangements for ordering are used but delivery is requested to a specific individual;
  • Orders to companies which are not known and cannot be readily traced in trade directories;

Security risks

For companies and organisations that store and use chemicals and equipment, there are risks involved as criminal groups have demonstrated their willingness to obtain these items through robberies, burglaries and theft. It is therefore imperative for companies to continually assess the security and protocols when handling, storing or transporting chemicals and equipment which could be used in illicit drug manufacture. Advice in relation to this issue can be easily obtained from police in your jurisdiction.

The scientific, chemical and pharmaceutical industries can and do play a vital role in the reduction of drug-related crime in our community. For more information on the code of practice and how you can assist law enforcement, please contact the relevant agency in your state. We look forward to your ongoing support and co-operation.

New South Wales Police - Drug Squad (Chemical Operations)
(02) 8835 9800 (02) 9700 0493
South Australia Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(08) 8463 7656 (08) 8463 7818
Queensland Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(07) 3364 4337 (07) 3364 4254
Northern Territory Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(08) 8922 3169 (08) 8922 3171
Victoria Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(03) 9865 2651 (03) 0865 2655
Western Australia Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(08) 9223 3246 (08) 9223 3566
Tasmania Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(03) 6320 2695 (03) 6230 2333
Australian Capital Territory Police - Chemical Diversion Desk
(02) 6256 7452 (02) 6256 7409
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