While most people are sleeping, many small-time methamphetamine users may be standing at their stoves, cooking up their weekly stash of the drug.
A new report by Southern California narcotics experts finds that many addicts opt to cook a personal supply of the white crystalline stimulant - a cheap and highly addictive substitute for cocaine - on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, in the middle of the night.
Why those two days? Because by Monday, many addicts have used up their supply. They wait until late at night to mix up a new batch because the later the hour, the less chance they'll get caught.
The report was one of two studies recently conducted by the Inland Narcotics Clearing House, a branch of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The findings provide a stark, disturbing profile of methamphetamine users and suppliers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, Southern California's hot spot for methamphetamine manufacturing.
The studies also tracked how quickly people across Southern California are learning to manufacture the drug, and the way these "cooks" get around tough restrictions on the over-the-counter ingredients used to make meth.
Law enforcement officials say the methamphetamine trade has two vastly different sources: the stovetop cooks, who tend to be addicts scrounging to feed their own habit; and super labs, high-tech and well-funded clandestine manufacturers run by Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. The latter can produce millions of dollars in profits.
Stovetop cooks make meth to use, not sell. And though they produce only about 20 percent of the nation's methamphetamine, they are the most abundant, said Will Glasby, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Local authorities say the surveys have given them a better idea of who these stovetop cooks are: middle-age, blue-collar white males living in suburban areas.
Contrary to popular belief, most stovetop cooks do not learn to make methamphetamine by searching the Web or by reading a book. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said a friend or companion showed them how to make the drug.
The study estimates that between 1999 and 2001, more than 250,000 people in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties learned to cook methamphetamine.
One of the study's most startling revelations is how state and federal restrictions on the sale of methamphetamine's ingredients, such as over-the-counter decongestants and a variety of industrial cleaning solutions, have spawned a new breed of junkie known as the "dirt baron."
To overcome the challenge of getting what's needed, the report says, some users have taken to combing isolated parts of the desert looking for leftovers dumped in the dirt by large-scale meth lab cooks.
Once such a location is discovered, dirt barons dig up the soil, which often contains toxic byproducts produced in the meth-making process. According to the report, they then "transport it home to extract any residual meth that may be left in the dirt." Nearly 65 percent of those surveyed said they have, or know someone who has, gone to such extraordinary lengths to get high.
There are others who use their own urine. These "tinkle tweakers," as police call them, store their urine in bottles so they can reprocess it later to extract the methamphetamine.
"One guy literally had Mason jars sitting around on shelves in his garage - Mason jars full of urine," Glasby said.
Akilah Johnson writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.