Since 1999, over 770,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses. The increase in deaths per year is staggering. In 1999, overdoses were responsible for 16,849 deaths. In 2017, the number skyrocketed to 70,237. Although the OD crisis is still dominated by opioids like heroin and synthetic prescription drugs like Oxycodone (OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (Vicodin), a drug responsible for thousands of deaths prior to the opioid epidemic has made a resurgence. Meth is back. And it’s back with a vengeance.
First synthesized by a Japanese chemist in 1893, methamphetamine was used early on as a medical treatment for conditions such as asthma, narcolepsy, and a weight-loss drug. The drug remained difficult to make until 1919, when another Japanese chemist streamlined the process that allowed it to be made into a crystallized form, creating what is known today as crystal meth. During World War II, both the Allies and Axis powers distributed the drug to troops to keep them awake. Meth use increased following the war, despite being outlawed by the U.S. in 1970.
Using the opioid problem as cover, the meth problem has resurfaced and has positioned itself for a comeback. From 2011-2017, overdose deaths from meth more than quadrupled. There was another huge spike in 2017-2018, as deaths increased by 22% over the previous year. Experts across both the medical and law enforcement fields worry that this may foreshadow a larger epidemic and become the “fourth wave” in an OD crisis that has plagued the US since 1999.
Although meth has been produced and used in the U.S. since the late 1970s, the popularity of the drug exploded in the early 1990s, – see “Breaking Bad.” According to the CDC, drugs are driven by “fads,” and history tells us that every opioid epidemic in the U.S. has been followed by a stimulant epidemic. Because of the focus on them, opioids have become harder to get, and that has opened the door for methamphetamine to take center stage.
- Meth has a Long History of Abuse in the United States
A stimulant, amphetamine, – also known as “speed” or “uppers” – was widely used by athletes, students, gangs, and truck drivers, in order to help them stay up, focus and perform. In the early 1980’s, “cooks,” making the drug for West Coast motorcycle gangs discovered that ephedrine, – the main ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicines – allowed them to produce methamphetamine, better known as “crystal meth,” because of its increased potency. Unlike other highly addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin, meth is easily made from household products. Ephedrine and its cousin pseudoephedrine, were plentiful, regularly available, and unregulated, allowing it to be manufactured in home labs easily. Meth labs were once prevalent not only in California and western states but in rural areas across the Midwest where they could largely be hidden and didn’t initially attract the attention of law enforcement.
- Methamphetamines are Inexpensive to Manufacture
As noted above, meth can be made with readily available substances that are also relatively cheap. In addition to ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, the other low cost “ingredients” needed to produce methamphetamine include:
- Meth has a Long History of Abuse in the United States
- Anhydrous ammonia
These substances are extremely dangerous and have led to serious injury and death among those cooking meth.
In addition, the equipment needed to make the drug is also inexpensive and readily available.
- Hot plates
- Laboratory beakers/glassware
- Rubber tubing
While these aren’t all of the supplies and ingredients in meth, they are the most common and readily available to everyone and these supplies and ingredients can be a sign that a loved one in making meth. Overall, meth is cheap to make, can be made by anyone in a number of ways, and has been exploited by those with the resources, know-how, and distribution channels to really compound the existing problem. If you notice any strange materials in yours or your loved one’s home like the ones listed above, reach out to us at GateHouse Treatment. They may be manufacturing meth and could be very far along in their addiction, or getting involved in dealing drugs, which is always dangerous. Especially with drugs like meth where users can become mentally unstable.
- Impact of the Mexican Cartels
In the early 1990s, meth production by home labs in the U.S. had declined significantly because of restrictions on cold medicine purchases implemented by the government. Enter the Colima/Amezcua Cartel. The Amezcua brothers, led by Jesus Amezcua Contreras and his brothers Adan and Luis, revolutionized the meth industry. According to Steve Suo, an investigative reporter for The Oregonian, “They turned it from a small mom-and-pop backyard operation to an industrial-scale production line. They made it possible for the superlab, which is capable of producing 1,500 times what an ordinary user can make for himself.”
The Amezcua’s developed relationships that allowed them to purchase ephedrine powder in bulk from the same overseas factories in countries like Germany, China, and India, that the American pharmaceutical industry purchased theirs from. Not only did this allow the industry and supply to expand in the U.S., but it also had a huge impact on two key elements of the meth resurgence. First, it helped the cartel to produce a purer, more lethal form of the drug that fed the mounting desires of users and addicts. With a purity rate between 95-100%, today’s meth is far superior to homemade “bottle dope,” which generally tested at approximately 20% pure. Second, and most importantly, it significantly dropped the price of the drug. Ten years ago, crustal meth generally fetched a price of $1,000-2,000 per ounce. Today, an ounce goes for about $250, and a gram can be purchased for an average of $20, and as little as $3.00 in areas where there is a big supply.
- The Supply of Crystal Meth in the U.S is at an All-Time High
Availability is another major reason meth use has had such a resurgence, especially when compared to other drugs. Although the opioid epidemic is currently at its peak, experts say demand and use among addicts have fallen because the oxycodone and Vicodin pills that have fueled the crisis are much harder to acquire and are substantially more expensive than meth. With the help of their distributors in the U.S., the Mexican cartels have been able to expand from what was only a west coast phenomenon to the Midwest, and now is taking hold on the East Coast. This expanding market poses additional issues for a country already plagued by an almost insurmountable drug problem.
Still, the meth crisis has not attracted much attention, receiving only minor coverage from the mainstream media. To a degree, the focus on the ongoing opioid epidemic is warranted. Although deaths from overdosing on meth spiked by nearly 22% in 2018-2019, as opposed to the previous year, the number pales in comparison to overdose deaths from the use of opiates which are responsible for more than 80% of all overdose-related deaths.
- Lack of Effective Treatment
If an addict overdoses on an opiate, – heroin, oxycontin, Vicodin, etc. – they can sometimes be “brought back” with Narcan, which can be injected into the thigh or administered via a spray into a victim’s nostrils. Unfortunately, there is no reversal medication for an overdose of meth, cocaine, or other stimulants. While meth can kill immediately like opiates, it causes other longer-lasting problems for users/addicts. Plain and simple, methamphetamine ruins lives. It has shown to cause anxiety issues in users that often leads to severe psychosis and violent behavior. Psychosis can last for months and even years after people have stopped using.
While prevention is the most impactful intervention, it’s not often feasible, because of the mental and physical condition of the addicted individual. More often, treatment consists of a combination of counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and contingency management. While contingency management does result in some users getting off the drug in the short term, – because the “contingency” if often a monetary award – it has not proved to be effective over the long term because addicts abuse the system, and many involved in treating meth users do not believe they should be rewarded with cash incentives.
Many experts feel that the “one-size-fits-all” approach to drug treatment in the United States which has not been effective is also doomed to fall short when it comes to treating meth abusers. All drugs require different protocols, treatments, and long-term recovery plans. For those addicted to meth, the biggest concern is not an overdose or death. The biggest dangers users face are the lasting physical damages, especially to the brain and heart. It’s pretty clear that America is unprepared for the problems that lie ahead. Hopefully, new treatments can be developed that will help to control the existing problems and lead to a permanent solution.
Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment
If you believe that your loved one has a crystal meth addiction, contact us today at (855) 448-3588. Treatment is available! Don’t let someone you love get caught up in the meth epidemic. You can heal, we can help.