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A History of Methamphetamine

Many Americans have seen the disturbing images made famous by the Faces of Meth campaign, originally launched in 2004. This is one of many campaigns which worked to fight a spike in methamphetamine abuse. Faces of Meth and other drug education campaigns appear to have a very positive effect when it comes to the fight against drug abuse and addiction.

Government surveys show that in 2012 and 2013, 5.5% of Americans 26 or older had used methamphetamine within their lifetime. Meth users among 18-25 year olds declined slightly, from 3.1% in 2012 to 3.0% in 2013.

Another statistic indicating trends in the United States is the methamphetamine laboratory incidents recorded by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2004 there were 23,829 meth lab incidents caught by the DEA. For 2005 there were 17,619. In 2006 the number reduced considerably to 9,177. More recently, the number has been on the rise: 2012 saw 11,210 meth lab incidents recorded by the DEA.

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that is chemically similar to amphetamine. While it’s sold on the street, it is also a prescription drug used legally to treat ADHD, severe weight loss difficulties and a sleep disorder called narcolepsy. Whether used by prescription or illegally, meth can cause a number of the following effects:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Nausea
  • Violent and erratic behavior
  • Hallucinations and paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Addiction
  • Death

Meth can also cause some extremely debilitating effects when used in the long term, such as damage to blood vessels, organ damage, malnutrition, severe tooth decay, depression, and brain damage.

Where Methamphetamine Started

Developed in Japan in 1919, methamphetamine appeared to make people more alert. It didn’t reach America until the 1930s, when doctors started using the drug to treat asthma and narcolepsy (a condition which is characterized by uncontrolled episodes of falling asleep during the day.)

During World War II, methamphetamine and other amphetamines were used by pilots on both fronts to stay awake during long bombing missions. In fact, an early form of crystal meth called Pervitin was commonly used by Nazi soldiers during battle. The drug not only kept them awake, it staved off the war-weariness felt later on during WWII. At the time, it was touted as a “miracle pill” by the Germans.

The Japanese also took advantage of the energizing and euphoria-inducing effects of methamphetamine during WWII. Military-grade meth was called Philopon/Hiropon and was given to factory workers, soldiers, and even kamikaze pilots. There was so much meth left over in Japan after the war that much of it leaked out into the general population. This created a huge addiction epidemic in Japan, spearheaded by pharmaceutical giant Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma. 1946 saw the first reported cases of methamphetamine-induced psychosis and by 1948 Japan began to regulate methamphetamine distribution and use.

Over the following decades, the drug made its way into the United States. Legally obtained methamphetamine was used for quite a few “medical” and non-medical purposes; truckers used it for long drives, athletes popped speed in order to keep up endurance, and doctors prescribed meth injections to treat heroin addiction. Methamphetamine manufacture and distribution became greatly restricted with the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Spike in Meth Use in the U.S.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of “Biker Crank” and meth distribution controlled by biker gangs. At the beginning of the meth crisis in America, it appeared that speed was mainly a West Coast problem. By the 1990s, however, Mexican drug cartels had found that meth was easy to cook on both sides of the border, and manufacture and distribution increased even more. Because meth can be made with common household ingredients and cough medicine containing pseudoephedrine, home meth labs also began to multiply. Due to high toxicity and flammability of the chemicals used, the number of meth lab explosions and chemical fires skyrocketed.

As supply grew, so did demand. A government survey reports that methamphetamine use among American adults went from just under 2% in 1994 to around 5% in 2004. National treatment information shows that from 1992-2002, the rate of treatment admissions for meth abuse went up five times – from under 1% of patients in treatment in 1992 to over 6% in 2003.

Regional trends pointed to hot spots in meth use, and the numbers spiked in many states across the nation. In 1992, Hawaii reported about 5% of treatment admissions to rehabs were for methamphetamine. By 2003, it had risen to 40% of admissions. Arkansas reported that less than 5% of admissions to treatment in 1992 were for methamphetamine, but by 2003 it was at 22%.

Specific cities also showed a huge upswing in meth-related admissions to the emergency room. Government statistics show that between 1995 and 2003, New Orleans saw a 194% increase in meth-related emergency room visits while Minneapolis saw a 243% increase.

Current Methamphetamine Issues

On a national level, methamphetamine abuse has been pretty “stable” in recent years. Two states that had high methamphetamine production rates (Oregon and Mississippi) made cough medicines containing pseudoephedrine – like Sudafed and Contac Cold – only available through prescription. In those states, methamphetamine production has dropped significantly.

The DEA reported 11,210 meth lab incidents in 2012, which is much reduced from 15,196 in 2010. While U.S. production of methamphetamine has gone down, seizures of smuggled meth from Mexico and ports along the West Coast are on the rise. News reports state that in 2014, San Diego’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s field office accounted for 63% of the methamphetamine seized at all ports of entry nationwide.

As stated at the beginning of this article, a powerful weapon against meth has been hard-hitting educational campaigns. Get educated and talk to those around you about methamphetamine.

If you or someone you know or love have been using meth, get help and contact a substance abuse and addiction specialist.

You might just save a life.

 

Sources:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/12/faces_of_meth_10_years_later_a.html
http://www.drugabuse.gov/national-survey-drug-use-health
http://www.dea.gov/resource-center/meth-lab-maps.shtml
http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth/what-does-methamphetamine-look-like.html
http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth/the-deadly-effects-of-meth.html
http://healthvermont.gov/adap/meth/brief_history.aspx
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/crystal-meth-origins-link-back-to-nazi-germany-and-world-war-ii-a-901755.html
http://www.tofugu.com/2012/04/10/japan-land-of-the-rising-crystal-meth/

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