How to Spot Drug Activity


One of the most dangerous things about drugs is their ability to be grown or manufactured in unregulated and unsafe environments. The illegal manufacture of drugs in these kinds of laboratories has been a problem for both law enforcement and citizens alike for a number of years and has led to a staggering amount of death, illness, and property damage. In fact, clandestine drug laboratories are consistently among the most dangerous day-to-day threats for law enforcement officials and the communities they serve.

Many different kinds of illegal and dangerous drugs can be manufactured clandestinely including methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and more. Each drug has unique hazards presented in the manufacturing and storage processes ranging from poorly oxygenated atmospheres to fires and explosions. If you think you have identified a drug manufacturing operation, leave the area immediately and dial 911. Signs of drug production include:

  • People entering and exiting the structure at strange times or while carrying odd-looking equipment
  • Occupants are unfriendly and secretive about their activities
  • Visible items associated with drug manufacturing like ammonia, drain cleaner, hydrochloric or sulfuric acid, lithium, ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, etc.)
  • Blacked out windows
  • Strange or chemical-like odors


More common than production operations are distribution hubs, or “trap houses”. These are most often residences that have been taken over by drug dealers who use them as a place from which they can sell their product. All that is needed to convert a residence into a distribution hub is a dealer, their product, and a customer. This could be a trailer in the woods or a half million-dollar home on a busy residential street. In addition to exhibiting similar signs as a production lab (sometimes the two are combined), a distribution operation has some other unique characteristics including:

  • Occupants and visitors are seen exchanging items, especially cash and small packaged goods
  • Drugs or drug paraphernalia in the area (rolling papers/wrappers, needles, medication containers, etc.)
  • Frequent visitors at all times of the day or night who only stay for a few minutes
  • Repeated flickering of cigarette lighters
  • Individuals loitering around the area as "lookouts" - people who keep watch for police in the area of the drug house and alert occupants of the house should law enforcement come near

Personal Use

Of all of the types of drug activity, personal use is the most commonly observed both by law enforcement and the general public. Users under the influence of alcohol may present with slurred speech, erratic physical movements, and an inability to articulate clear thoughts or even stand upright. Someone who has ingested methamphetamine may keep scratching themselves intently or come off as inexplicably irritable and may not sleep for days. A heroin user may experience slow breathing, unconsciousness, and death. Click a substance below for a fact sheet regarding personal use.