Methamphetamine: the Threat
Methamphetamine is a common drug that is very prevalent across the territory of the United States. Easily manufactured in improvised laboratories located in garages and barns all over the country, methamphetamine presents a problem not just to law enforcement but to society as a whole. Methamphetamine is easy to produce, hard to detect, and its consumption has severe negative consequences on the consumer.
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug that is manufactured wholly in a laboratory unlike other illegal drugs which may be extracted from natural sources, such as plants. This psychoactive drug appears in its most common form as a white powder that is odorless and bitter-tasting, with a crystalline appearance, hence the street name “crystal meth”. Other popular names under which this drug is known are “meth ice”, “crystal”, “glass”, and “tik”. Methamphetamine is manufactured from amphetamine, an over-the-counter medication that is used to treat common colds. Methamphetamine is a much more concentrated substance that causes the user to experience a “high”, with symptoms of increased activity and a general sense of “well-being”. The long term consequences of using this drug are addiction, psychosis, changes in brain structure, memory loss, violent behavior, and weight loss. The most significant fact is that addiction to methamphetamine can lead to severe permanent damage to the brain, specifically in areas that control motor and cognitive functions, effectively retarding an individual after heavy use. In addition to these long term effects methamphetamine also restricts blood flow in the body, inhibiting the body’s ability to repair itself, which leads “meth” addicts to have an aged appearance with wrinkles, and acne all over their body, coupled with severe teeth damage.
The horrible effects of methamphetamine addiction come into perspective as the drug use spreads across the country. To put things into perspective it is useful to look at treatment admission rates in specialized facilities. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1992 there were approximately 21000 treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse. By 2004 the number increased to approximately 150000 admissions, roughly 8 percent of all admissions. That represents an increase of over 700 percent in meth abuses in just over 12 years, which is a significant increase, and which shows that this drug’s use has risen drastically. Also in 1992 only 5 states reported high rates of treatment admissions for methamphetamine, today 21 states report high rates of admissions, which is another substantial increase. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2005 approximately 10 million adult Americans, aged 12 and up, reported that they had used methamphetamine sometime in their lifetime (SAMHSA, 1). Although it is hard to quantify current Methamphetamine usage in the U.S., several factors indicate that the drug is becoming even more prevalent. First, the street price of the drug has fallen sharply since 2007, while the purity has increased concurrently. Second, the number of drug seizures by law enforcement has increased dramatically over the last decade, reaching 8,699 kilograms of the drug in 2010. Compared to 5,578 kilograms seized in 2006, the scope of the issue quickly becomes evident.
Besides the immediate dangers to the drug user, there is a larger risk associated with methamphetamine, and that is the production of this drug which places our communities in danger. The majority of laboratories seized by law enforcement authorities are home labs, home-made factories on a small scale, usually located in homes or garages. These labs are very dangerous places, because through the production of methamphetamine, a number of deadly chemicals are released in the air that can potentially asphyxiate a person or cause an explosion. Many times the impromptu meth makers live in the same residence where they produce the drug together with their families, which places a very high risk of death and injury on them. Because these laboratories are hidden inside residences it is very difficult for Law Enforcement authorities to locate and disable these facilities. Unlike marijuana production which requires a large space, plant heaters and sophisticated equipment, meth labs use relatively easily available technology, and are often sealed from the inside to prevent any chemicals from escaping into the surrounding areas. The most successful way for Law Enforcement to combat this problem has been to control the sale of amphetamine and pseudo ephedrine, the substances that are used in the manufacturing of meth. Often times however, officers are called to meth labs when the workers or family members become severely ill or when laboratories explode (Booth et al, 854).
It is very important to understand methamphetamine to determine why it has been so successful and why it has spread so fast across the United States. It is necessary to study what makes individuals addicted to this substance to try and create programs to help them in the clinical environment. Only through careful research and examination can the government develop successful social programs to discourage the use of methamphetamine, and powerful legislation to discourage the production of the drug. Ultimately it is up to the American people to express their desire to stop this epidemic and to convince Congress and their local legislative assemblies to pass stronger legislation against it.
Australian Drug Foundation (ADF). 2012. Drug facts. Melbourne, Australia: Australian Drug Foundation. http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/drug-facts/ice
Booth, Brenda M., Carlson, Robert G., Leukefeld, Carl G. and Sexton, Rocky L. 2006. “Patterns of illicit methamphetamine production (“cooking”) and associated risks in the rural South: An ethnographic exploration”. Journal of Drug Issues. Tallahassee, FL: FloridaStateUniversity. Vol. 36 Issue 4, p853-876, 24p
National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC). 2011. National Drug Threat Assessment 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs44/44849/44849p.pdf
National Institute on Drug Abuse. 2006. Research Report Series – Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction.Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/RRMetham.pdf
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 2013. Frontline: the Meth Epidemic. Washington, D.C.: Public Broadcasting Service. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2006. Results from the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. NSDUH Series H-30. DHHS Pub No. SMA 06-4194, Rockville, MD: DHHS.