Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Drug traffickers are hiding small amounts of the deadly toxin ricin in methamphetamine labs to kill law enforcement officers.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1998]
Origins: Cutting straight to the chase, we note that there hasn't been a single documented case of drug traffickers booby trapping their labs with ricin. Moreover, the Sacramento Regional Office of the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement has not issued such an alert. Take such warnings with large grains of salt.
So where did this alert come from?
In January 1998, a number of U.S. law enforcement agencies were warned by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of the dangers ricin could pose to law enforcement officers. Authorities feared the toxin could be used by terrorists or
The spreading of this 'special alert' appears to have been a case of "better safe than sorry" with various agencies reacting to the warning as it came to them. According to the DEA, their intelligence unit in
The warning's author will likely never be found, so the best we can do is speculate on how he came to put ricin and evil drug traffickers together.
The rumors linking the deadly chemical to methamphetamine labs can be traced to an incident at the Canadian border in 1993. A search of American electrician Thomas Lavy's car uncovered guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, $80,000 in cash, some neo-Nazi literature and a plastic bag filled with enough ricin to kill tens of thousands of people. Lavy told the Canadian Customs agents that he used the poison to booby trap cash he had been carrying and to kill coyotes who had been preying on his chickens. (Whatever he'd really been up to will remain a mystery — he hanged himself in a jail cell on
In 1997, possession of ricin led to a federal conviction of a Wisconsin man who had planned to mail it to unnamed enemies. A November 1997 cover story in U.S. News and World Report made mention of the Canadian border confiscation. Soon afterwards a wave of ricin alerts flooded police agencies.
Being a cop is a dangerous business, and it's not unknown for drug traffickers to slip something nasty into part of their product in the hopes of harming whoever is unlucky enough to have to handle it. (As a Newark DEA spokesman said, "We've seen a variety of substances used in cocaine that could only have been put there in an attempt to harm the person conducting the analysis.")
From there it seems almost a natural to put tampered drugs together with the latest dangerous substance on everyone's mind to come up with this "nationwide trend among drug traffickers".
Ricin (pronounced "rise-in") is every bit as deadly as the Special Alert made it out to be. It's a derivative of the castor bean and it truly is
Ricin was used by Bulgarian secret agents to kill defector Georgi Markov in London in 1978. Investigators said he was stabbed in a leg with an umbrella tipped with a pellet dipped in the poison.
Barbara "poison pen pal(liative)" Mikkelson
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