Slate's Explainer: Burning Cocaine

More than a ton of cocaine seized in Kenya in 2004 is still awaiting disposal. Officials there plan to burn the drugs. Andy Bowers of Slate offers this "explainer" about what's involved in burning that much coke.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Okay, we promised you the cocaine. Here it is. Officials in Kenya, with help from American and British experts, have destroyed more than a ton of cocaine. It was one of the biggest cocaine seizures in Kenya's history. And that got the Explainer Team at the online magazine Slate wondering, how do you destroy so much cocaine?

Slate's Andy Bowers has the answer.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Senior Editor, Slate): The old fashioned way, you burn it. The incineration took place at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. It took several hours to burn all of the contraband. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime advised the country on internationally accepted destruction methods, which include testing the ashes to verify the absence of drugs.

In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration burns illicit drugs, such as marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine, at contract facilities. Hazardous chemicals, like the ether and methanol used to make methamphetamines, are incinerated separately according to EPA regulations. Temperatures inside an incinerator can reach up to 1500-degrees Fahrenheit. And experts say if an incinerator is properly maintained and operated, you cannot get a contact high from the emissions.

Drugs are destroyed after they are no longer needed for legal proceedings. If a stash is taking up too much space in DEA storage facilities, a sample might be preserved while the rest is burned.

There are a few other methods of disposing with illegal drugs. Virginia State Police flush small amounts down the toilet. And Canadian officials sometimes render drugs unusable by mixing them into a plaster that is later buried.

BRAND: Andy Bowers is a Slate senior editor, and that Explainer was compiled by Melonyce McAfee.

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