Dangerous rolling meth labs rare in Horry County

A Tennessee man remains jailed in Horry County, charged with manufacturing methamphetamine.

North Myrtle Beach police arrested Robby Hawkins, 31, Wednesday, after finding what they call a rolling meth lab in his truck.

City spokesman Pat Dowling said detectives call it a "shake and bake" lab, the first that police have seen in North Myrtle Beach in many years.

While we often think of meth labs as being in a permanent structure like a house or motel room, a counselor at a Conway addiction clinic says labs on wheels are getting popular.

"Rolling labs are difficult to detect, that's their purpose," said John Coffin, executive director of Shoreline Behavioral Health Services.

Many states have cracked down on sales of pseudoephedrine, the over-the-counter cold medicine that's a key ingredient for making meth. So, Coffin said, meth manufacturers have to find a way to avoid having their purchases tracked.

"With a rolling lab, you can just cruise from town to town, going to different stores."

Coffin said a rolling lab allows meth makers to quickly dump their byproducts along the road and more easily disperse the caustic fumes that can give away a permanent lab. "If you've got a meth lab and there are other houses around, people are going to smell it."

Making meth involves cooking the pseudoephedrine down to its basic ingredients, a process that involves volatile chemicals, like anhydrous ammonia, paint thinner and acetone. Coffin calls it toxic waste. "Both explosive, caustic and the fumes are dangerous."

The mixture can be stabilized in several ways, like adding sand, as North Myrtle Beach police did Wednesday. Coffin said that's important, because the chemicals are highly flammable.

"Usually when we hear about these major explosions they're at stationary meth labs but the rolling ones can explode, too, for sure."

Coffin said the main concern with meth today is the small mom-and-pop manufacturers, who can easily cook the drug on the go and transport it across state lines.

Coffin cited statistics that show last year, there were close to 1,000 people admitted to drug treatment facilities for meth addiction in South Carolina.