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Date: Oct. 1, 2016
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Drug overview; Topic overview
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Official Names: Methamphetamine (METH-am-FETT-uh-meen), methamphetamine hydrochloride (Desoxyn [des-OK-sinn] ); deoxyephedrine (dee-OK-see-ih-FEH-drinn; Methedrine)
Street Names: Batu, chalk, crank, crystal, crystal meth, glass, ice, meth, poor man's cocaine, shabu, speed, tina, trash, ya ba, zip
Drug Classification: Schedule II, stimulant

What Kind of Drug Is It?

Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as "meth," is a synthetic, or laboratory-made, stimulant. Stimulants increase alertness, endurance, and feelings of well-being in the user. Examples of other stimulant drugs include cocaine and caffeine. (Entries on both of these drugs are available in this encyclopedia.) Methamphetamine is considered an especially powerful and addictive substance--far more addictive even than cocaine--because of its powerful effect on the brain.

Methamphetamine was developed by a Japanese chemist in 1919 from amphetamine, another laboratory-made drug. Amphetamine increases energy, reduces appetite, and helps keep users awake. (An entry on amphetamines is also available in this encyclopedia.) The first amphetamine had been made by a German chemist in the late 1880s, but it was not used for medical purposes until decades later. In its earliest form, amphetamine was found to be an effective treatment for asthma (AZ-muh), a lung disorder that interferes with normal breathing. Because of its similar ability to unclog breathing passages, methamphetamine was originally used as a nasal decongestant.

The medical use of methamphetamine is extremely limited. However, illicit, or unlawful, use is quite high worldwide. Like other amphetamines, methamphetamine boosts energy levels and produces an intense rush or high in the user. These properties have made it popular with recreational drug users--those who use a drug solely to get high, not to treat a medical condition. The dangers of methamphetamine lie in its strength and its high potential for addiction. Few people can "try" methamphetamine once without wanting more. Experts in the medical, behavioral, and law enforcement fields consider meth abuse one of the most serious social threats of the early twenty-first century.


Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug. It is closely related to amphetamine but has a longer lasting and more toxic effect on individuals who abuse it. Because of its potentially harmful side effects, methamphetamine is prescribed by doctors only when other medications have failed to help their patients. Methamphetamine has been used with some success in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children and adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD are typically impulsive, somewhat edgy, and have difficulty focusing and controlling their actions. These symptoms often interfere with their ability to function socially and academically. Methamphetamine is also approved for use in treating obesity as well as narcolepsy, a rare sleep disorder characterized by daytime tiredness and sudden attacks of sleep.

What is of great concern to drug-control authorities, however, is the increasingly widespread abuse of methamphetamine. During the 1990s and early 2000s, the illegal manufacture and distribution of the drug increased dramatically in the United States. According to the 2004 "National Synthetic Drugs Action Plan" prepared by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the bulk of the methamphetamine sold in the United States is produced illegally in California. "Most of the large super labs in California are run by organizations with ties to Mexico," noted the authors of the "Action Plan." However, record numbers of smaller, independent labs began popping up throughout the American Midwest beginning in 2003. Authorities considered the eastward movement of the methamphetamine problem and the "dramatic increase" in these Midwestern labs to be "particularly troubling." Methamphetamine availability trends in U.S. drug markets are mixed; some markets in western states have reported sporadic and temporary shortages, while markets in other regions have reported stable and increasing availability. Law enforcement reporting indicated atypical trends in methamphetamine availability in the first half of 2007. Law enforcement agencies in Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Modesto, and San Diego (CA); Las Vegas (NV); Minneapolis (MN); and Oregon reported decreases in the availability and purity of methamphetamine. At the same time, the Department of Justice reported an increase in methamphetamine availability in eastern states, including Florida, Virginia and New Jersey.

The illegal use of methamphetamine reached epidemic proportions in the United States by 2005 and has remained essentially constant since then. According to the "2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)," 569,000 individuals over the age of 12 in the United States had used methamphetamine at least once in the month prior to the survey. This number had remained essentially constant between 2002 and 2014. These data indicate that the number of regular methamphetamine users in the United States has changed very little between 2002 and 2014.

Homemade Meth

Methamphetamine can be manufactured or "cooked" in home laboratories. special reporter Jon Bonné noted in the online article "Meth's Deadly Buzz" that the drug "is easily manufactured domestically with common household items such as batteries and cold medicine." Meth "cooks" are usually untrained, and the chemicals they use are highly flammable, meaning they are capable of catching fire and burning quickly. This increases the likelihood of accidental explosions in meth labs. Despite the risks, drug traffickers set up their operations in small spaces such as bathrooms, sheds, basements, crawl spaces, motel rooms, and even suitcases. The business has become something of a family tradition in some cases, with parents passing recipes and production tips down to their children.

In order to avoid being caught, some meth cooks set up their equipment in mobile labs. These labs might be assembled in car trunks, vans, travel trailers, motor homes, and even trucks. But because meth production has a great potential for explosions, especially among inexperienced cooks, the mobile labs become toxic time bombs that present a very real threat to police and motorists. In addition to explosions, mobile labs have been known to leak hazardous materials, resulting in road closures while the cleanup work is being done. In many cases, both mobile and non-mobile labs have to be disassembled by hazardous materials (hazmat) crews or law enforcement officers dressed in protective gear.

Abusing Meth Equals Quick Addiction

Methamphetamine produces feelings of euphoria, which is a state of extreme happiness and enhanced well-being. It also increases energy by raising the levels of two neurotransmitters in the brain: 1) dopamine (DOPE-uh-meen), which is a combination of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen; and 2) norepinephrine (nor-epp-ih-NEFF-run), which is a natural stimulant. The drug causes excessive amounts of these chemicals to be released, resulting in a spike, or sudden increase, in their concentration in the brain.

Methamphetamine's effect on dopamine levels can help treat patients with ADHD and narcolepsy. Dopamine plays a key role in regulating attention. It acts on the part of the brain responsible for filtering incoming information, making choices, and deciding when and how to act. However, in users who do not have ADHD or narcolepsy, methamphetamine's effect on dopamine increases alertness, brings on a sense of happiness and contentment, and creates an urge for more and more of the drug. That is what makes it so dangerous. As Julia Sommerfeld explained in the article "Beating an Addiction to Meth" on "While high levels of dopamine in the brain usually cause feelings of pleasure, too much can produce aggressiveness, irritability, and schizophrenic-like behavior." Schizophrenic behavior refers to exhibiting the symptoms of schizophrenia, a severe mental disease characterized by a withdrawal from reality and other intellectual and emotional disturbances.

Methamphetamine addiction can occur easily. Users who want to lose weight take methamphetamine to decrease their appetites. Others might try it for the burst of energy it provides to cram for exams or work extra hours. But the effects of the drug are so intense that occasional users or even first-timers often find themselves craving more. KCI: The Anti-Meth Site posts stories of users who have been drawn into the world of addiction. Their accounts illustrate the drug's destructive effects.

"The Meth Epidemic in America"

In July of 2005, a report titled "The Meth Epidemic in America" was released by the National Association of Counties (NACo). Five hundred counties from forty-five states participated in the survey. About 87 percent of responding law enforcement agencies reported increases in meth-related arrests since 2002. In addition, 40 percent of child welfare officials surveyed reported an increase in children needing out-of-home placements due to methamphetamine-related activities.

NACo president Angelo D. Kyle wrote in his executive summary of the survey: "The methamphetamine epidemic in the United States, which began in the West and is moving East, is having a devastating effect on our country. The increasingly widespread production, distribution and use of meth are now affecting urban, suburban and rural communities nationwide." As noted above, the misuse and abuse of methamphetamine have largely leveled off over the last decade. Thus, while it is still an issue of major concern to the nation, it no longer is growing at the rate it has in the past.

Impact on the Environment

The illegal manufacture of methamphetamine takes its toll on the environment as well. Statistics from "The Meth Epidemic in America" indicate that for every pound of methamphetamine produced, five to seven pounds of toxic waste are created. The solid wastes are usually dumped down household drains, in yards, or on back roads. The accompanying poisonous gas is released into the air. Chemicals from large-scale methamphetamine laboratory dump sites have killed livestock, contaminated streams, and destroyed trees and vegetation.

According to the ONDCP, "The cleanup operation following the discovery of a dump or ... laboratory site is typically an extremely expensive endeavor." California spent nearly $5 million cleaning up meth sites in 2002, and costs are on the rise. As meth makers refine their skills and upgrade their labs, larger amounts of the drug can be produced at a single site. More meth means more toxins, which translates into more expensive cleanup operations. "Some labs are now able to produce 100 pounds or more of methamphetamine per production cycle," notes the ONDCP report. "[T]his increased productivity leaves behind increased amounts of toxic waste." The effect of these chemicals on the nation's water supply--and all the people who drink from it--remains to be seen.

What Is It Made Of?

Methamphetamine is closely related to amphetamine but has longer lasting and more toxic effects on the user's system. Meth is a white, odorless powder that dissolves easily in water or alcohol. Production of the drug begins with common chemicals, including ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Ephedrine-containing pills and powders were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004. However, illicit supplies are still available through the Internet. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in cold medicines and asthma drugs.

Methamphetamine is relatively easy to produce in homemade laboratories. Various newspaper accounts note that meth cooks routinely brew small batches of the drug in their home labs using household goods that they purchased legally in stores. Many use recipes they find on the Internet posted by amateur chemists. As such, the strength and toxicity of each batch can vary considerably. By 2005, more and more Americans were expressing their concern over the ease with which these meth ingredients could be purchased. As a result, lawmakers began to push for crackdowns on the sale of ephedrine and greater restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing medicines.

How Is It Taken?

Methamphetamine is swallowed, snorted, injected, smoked, absorbed through the gums, or inserted through the anus.

Legal Form

The prescription form of methamphetamine (Desoxyn) comes in the form of a white tablet. Each tablet contains 5 milligrams of methamphetamine hydrochloride. Its chemical formula is C10H15N·HCl.

Illegal Forms

Illegally produced methamphetamine tablets often contain large amounts of caffeine. The tablets are sweet, brightly colored, and about the size of a pencil eraser. These pills are called ya ba, the Thai term for "crazy drug." Ya ba is especially popular in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Burma, and Laos. It first appeared in the United States in 1999, with use centered in the Southeast Asian communities of California. In a September 2002 article for the North County Times, Louise Chu explained, "Ya ba has become a vague label for any type of meth in pill form, although it specifically refers to the brand produced in Southeast Asia."

The powdered form of methamphetamine is much more common. Users absorb it through mucous membranes in a variety of ways--snorted up the nose, rubbed onto the gums, wrapped in a cigarette paper and swallowed, or even wrapped and inserted into the anus. The powder dissolves quickly and is sometimes added to coffee or alcoholic drinks.

Liquefied methamphetamine is made by adding water to the powdered form of the drug. As a liquid, it can be injected directly into a user's vein or muscle.

Chunks of methamphetamine hydrochloride look like clear crystals and are often referred to as "ice." A common way to smoke ice is in a glass pipe with a bulb on one end. According to G. C. Luna in a 2001 article posted on the SciELO Public Health Web site, "some methamphetamine users break off the tops of light bulbs, put the drug into the glass bulb, heat the underside of the bulb, and inhale the contents."

A quarter of a gram of methamphetamine costs anywhere from twenty to sixty dollars on the black market. Meth users are willing to spend the money to purchase such a small amount of the drug because a long-lasting high can be achieved with very small quantities.

Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?

In the United States, methamphetamine is approved for use in treating certain medical conditions. It is used medically to manage the symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy. It can also be used as a short-term treatment for obesity.

Usage Trends

Methamphetamine was developed in the early twentieth century from amphetamine. Its stimulating effects on the brain and body quickly led to its abuse as a recreational drug. By the 1960s, the availability of injectable methamphetamine had increased, and the rate of addiction grew substantially. In 1970, the U.S. government passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classified methamphetamine as a Schedule II substance. This meant that it is approved for medical use with a prescription but nevertheless possesses a high potential for abuse. This legislation severely restricted the legal production of methamphetamine. With these restrictions, however, came a huge jump in the number of illegal labs that were manufacturing the drug. In the 1980s, a smokeable form of methamphetamine, known as ice or crank, came into widespread use.

Methamphetamine trafficking and abuse rose in the United States and throughout the world during the 1990s. Various sources, including the ONDCP's "Action Plan," reported that the methamphetamine problem spread during this period from the western United States to the Midwest and the South. Much of the illegal supply was (and still is) made and distributed by Mexican drug trafficking organizations. By the early 2000s, meth was being distributed by Mexican traffickers through networks that had been established earlier for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana sales. (Entries on these three drugs are also available in this encyclopedia.) According to the Drug Enforcement Administration's "Statistics: DEA Drug Seizures," more than 118 million doses of methamphetamine were seized in 2002. In addition, the agency's National Clandestine Laboratory Database reported that some 7,000 meth labs were destroyed in 2004. The states of Iowa, Missouri, and Tennessee reported the highest number of meth lab incidents that year.

Is There Such a Thing as a Meth User Profile?

Most methamphetamine users report that they began taking the drug as an experiment. They wanted to have more energy and experience a powerful high. In the late 1990s, meth use in the United States was highest among white, male, blue-collar workers on the West Coast. The user profile has since broadened to include diverse groups in all regions of the country. The authors of the 2005 study "The Meth Epidemic in America" noted that more high school- and college-aged students were taking the drug. Use had grown enormously among individuals in their twenties and thirties. There is no longer a definition of a "typical meth user." Use is high among the employed and the unemployed, white-collar workers and blue-collar workers, men and women. Though typically associated with whites, use is spreading among Hispanics and Native Americans as well.

Other groups showing increased use of methamphetamine include homeless and runaway youths, individuals who attend raves, and homosexuals. The gay community is at special risk because of the "party and play" trend developing in homosexual circles. As reported by David J. L. Jefferson in a February 2005 Newsweek article, "party and play" refers to using methamphetamine and then having sex--often without a condom. There is growing concern that this type of abuse will lead to an increase in the spread of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Jefferson noted that when comparing nonusers and users of methamphetamine, the users were twice as likely to engage in unprotected sex and four times as likely to be HIV positive (carrying the human immunodeficiency virus, which can lead to AIDS).

Teen Use in the United States

Information about substance abuse is available from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study conducted by the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Michigan. That study has been asking twelfth graders in the United States since 1975, and eighth and tenth graders since 1991, about their abuse and misuse of legal and illegal drugs and about their attitudes about substance use. In the most recent MTF report (2014), 1.0 percent of eighth graders, 1.4 percent of tenth graders, and 1.9 percent of twelfth graders reported that they had used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. Those numbers had all decreased substantially since that question was first asked in 1999, from 4.5 percent for eighth graders, 7.3 percent for tenth graders, and 8.2 percent for twelfth graders. The number of respondents who said they had used the drug within the 30 days preceding the survey was even smaller: 0.2 percent for eighth graders, 0.3 for tenth graders, and 0.5 for twelfth graders. These numbers had also decreased significantly, from 1.1 percent, 1.8 percent, and 1.7 percent, respectively. Questions about students' view on the harmfulness of methamphetamine have been asked only of twelfth graders. The response to that question showed that respondents generally though that methamphetamine was only moderately harmful to those who used it in the 1990s, but have gradually become convinced of the drug's harmful effects in recent years.

The DAWN Reports

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) keeps track of drug-related emergency department (ED) visits throughout the United States. Prior to 2003, statistics on methamphetamine and other amphetamines were grouped together in DAWN reports. The 2014 DAWN report notes that 130,033 individuals were admitted to EDs in 2013 for methamphetamine-related causes. That number has remained fairly constant over more than a decade, rising somewhat from 114,362 in 2003 and reaching a peak of 155,882 in 2006. The most common racial/ethnic group to require ED treatment for methamphetamine issues was individuals of Mexican or Asian/Pacific Islanders, with 21 percent of each group reporting for methamphetamine abuse or misuse. Similar rates were much lower for non-Hispanic whites (9 percent), Native Americans (9 percent), and non-Hispanic blacks (2 percent). The most common age for ED admissions for both genders and all races and ethnicities was about 30 years.

Meth Use High Worldwide

The 2014 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, reported that the production of methamphetamine had continued to increase worldwide, with the largest volume of the drug being produced in Mexico, followed by the United States, China, Thailand, and Iran. The amount of methamphetamine seized by drug control organizations also continued to rise, from about 30 tons worldwide in 2003 to about 50 tons in 2010 to nearly 120 tons in 2012. Half of this total was seized in North America, and a quarter in East and Southeast Asia.

Effects on the Body

When snorted or taken orally, one "hit" of methamphetamine can produce a high that lasts for about twelve hours. In general, the faster the meth is absorbed into the body, the more intense the pleasurable feelings experienced by the user. Injecting and smoking methamphetamine deliver a "rush" that cannot be achieved by snorting powder or swallowing pills, which slows the absorption process. Most addicts inject liquid methamphetamine or smoke crystal meth because the rush is what they are seeking.

Injecting methamphetamine is the most dangerous method of use. When methamphetamine is dissolved in water, dust, germs, and other materials can get into the liquid. The syringe used to inject the drug into the veins may be dirty as well. Any contaminants in the liquid or on the needle will be injected directly into the bloodstream. Users who inject methamphetamine run the risk of contracting both HIV and hepatitis A from sharing needles. The injections can also cause sores at the injection sites.

Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous and addictive drug. It increases heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, and body temperature. Other effects include nausea, diarrhea, increased talkativeness, and a tendency to engage in repetitive actions. When the drug is injected, the initial rush leads some individuals to report feeling invincible, as if they can take on the world. Throughout the high that follows, users frequently appear more self-assured, "pumped up," and sexually aroused. They also may become extremely aggressive. As time passes, however, the surge of energy begins to fade. At that point, users are said to be crashing. They typically experience: 1) dehydration--an abnormally low amount of fluid in the body; 2) anxiety--feelings of being extremely overwhelmed, restless, fearful, and worried; 3) tiredness; and 4) depression--feelings of hopelessness, loss of pleasure, self-blame, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

In severe cases, a mental disorder known as methamphetamine psychosis (sy-KOH-sis) develops. Symptoms of psychosis include paranoia, or abnormal feelings of suspicion and fear; hallucinations, or visions or other perceptions of things that are not really present; and uncontrolled anxiety that may lead to rage and violent behavior. And the hallucinations are not only visual. Users may hear voices. They have also been known to tear their skin apart in search of imaginary "crank bugs" that they think they feel crawling all over their bodies.

A Nasty Cycle

Because methamphetamine users know what to expect when they crash, their main goal is to avoid coming down by getting high again. This process is referred to as "bingeing." Bingers may continue the drug-taking cycle for so long that they end up staying awake for days. But all meth users eventually reach a point where no amount of the drug will sustain their high. Users in this phase, which is known as "tweaking," become extremely frustrated, irritable, and likely to be involved in a serious fight or accident.

Over time, heavy methamphetamine use takes an extreme toll on the user's body--both inside and outside. A noticeable loss of weight and a tendency to sweat makes them appear ill. They may also develop body odor; yellowing, decayed teeth or loss of teeth; and chalky pale skin. The internal effects of methamphetamine can include an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and possible stroke. Dangerously high body temperatures, convulsions, and even death may occur if a user overdoses. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery and harm to the baby.

What Meth Does to the Brain

Research conducted by Dr. Nora D. Volkow and published in the March 2001 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that methamphetamine impairs the brain's ability to resist repeated use of the drug. Volkow's research shows that methamphetamine users have fewer dopamine receptors in their brains than nonusers. With continued abuse, the reward center in the brains of meth addicts will not respond to any stimuli--except more meth. In the 2001 Brookhaven National Laboratory article "Methamphetamine Delivers 'One-Two' Punch to the Brain," Volkow noted that such research "may help explain why drug addicts lose control and take drugs compulsively."

In another study headed by Volkow and published in the December 2001 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, users with damaged dopamine receptors were reexamined after a period of abstinence from the drug. The participants in the study were longtime abusers of methamphetamine, reporting at least two years of continued use for at least five days per week. Changes in their brains were measured in two ways: 1) using brain-imaging techniques, and 2) using their scores on tests of various physical and intellectual abilities.

In the April 2002 edition of "NIDA Notes," Patrick Zickler summarized the results of this second study. Heavy methamphetamine abusers who managed to remain drug-free "for at least nine months showed substantial recovery from damage to the dopamine transporters but not from impairments in motor skills and memory." In other words, the pictures of the recovered addicts' brains looked more like the brains of non-meth users, but their physical and intellectual performance remained low. Zickler quoted Volkow as saying that the changes in the brains of heavy methamphetamine abusers "are roughly equivalent to 40 years of aging." Furthermore, people who use meth may run a greater risk of developing Parkinson's disease as they age. The bottom line is that methamphetamine abuse can cause lasting brain damage.

Reactions with Other Drugs or Substances

Various drugs and substances cause dangerous health effects when taken with meth.

  • The use of other stimulants along with methamphetamine has an additive effect, which can damage the heart.
  • Methamphetamine mixed with over-the-counter cold medicines can cause a dangerous rise in blood pressure.
  • To decrease the negative feelings experienced during tweaking, an abuser often self-medicates with a depressantdepressanta substance that slows down the activity of an organism or one of its parts such as alcohol. But alcohol only masks the effects of methamphetamine, causing the user to crave another "hit."
  • Methamphetamines taken in combination with antidepressant drugs may pose life-threatening health risks.

Treatment for Habitual Users

Methamphetamine users experience extreme psychological withdrawal when they stop using the drug. People suffering from psychological withdrawal feel that they need to keep taking the drug because they can't function without it. Sommerfeld quoted drug researcher Douglas Anglin of the University of California at Los Angeles as saying, "There's not severe physical withdrawal with methamphetamine, but rather a feeling of anhedonia ... that can last for months and which leads to a lot of relapse at six months." Withdrawal from methamphetamine is characterized by drug cravings, depression, an inability to sleep, and an increased appetite. Users in this stage may become suicidal.

Rehab: Difficult but Possible

Methamphetamine addicts often resist any form of treatment or intervention, according to Luna. They feel that they'll be able to quit on their own when they're ready. Among addicts who do seek help, the treatment process is typically lengthy. It can continue for months or even more than a year after the user has quit the drug. Antidepressant medications may be used to help battle the depression that can accompany withdrawal.

However, drug therapy usually is most helpful when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). According to the Web site, the most effective treatment for methamphetamine addiction consists of behavioral interventions such as individual and group counseling. These treatments help addicts establish a new circle of non-using friends and improve their coping skills to deal with everyday stressors.

NIDA Fights Against Meth Abuse

NIDA is pursuing research on drugs that could help with the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the head of NIDA, appeared before the U.S. Senate to talk about methamphetamine abuse in 2005. She stated: "To further speed medication development efforts, NIDA has... established the Methamphetamine Clinical Trials Group (MCTG) to conduct clinical (human) trials of medications for [methamphetamine addiction] in geographic areas in which ... abuse is particularly high, including San Diego, Kansas City, Des Moines, Costa Mesa, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Honolulu." Among the drugs being tested are medicines used to treat high blood pressure, an anti-nausea drug, several antidepressants, and an anti-epilepsy drug. (Epilepsy is a disorder involving the misfiring of electrical impulses in the brain, sometimes resulting in seizures and loss of consciousness.) In addition, NIDA is funding research on a substance to treat meth overdoses.

The Synthetic Drug Control Strategy, begun in 2006, established the goal of reducing methamphetamine abuse by 15 percent, and reducing domestic methamphetamine laboratories by 25 percent, all by the end of 2008, using 2005 data as a baseline. With the passage of chemical control laws at the State, and Federal, levels; combined with efforts of State, local, and Native American tribal law enforcement aided by efforts at control of precursor chemicals in producing countries, methamphetamine laboratory seizures recorded in EPIC's database declined by 48 percent by the end of 2006-almost twice the established goal and 2 years ahead of schedule.


The consequences of illicit methamphetamine use include lowered productivity among addicted workers, increased health care costs, higher accident and death rates, and more crime and violence.

Crime and Meth

The increase in methamphetamine abuse by Americans has led to a surge in methamphetamine-related crimes, including theft, domestic violence, and child neglect. In 2001, Luna reported that there were "more persons incarcerated in the United States for drug-related 'crimes' than in any other country in the world." According to "The Meth Epidemic in America," law enforcement agencies in the Southwest reported a 96-percent increase in methamphetamine-related arrests between 2002 and 2005. The Northwest saw a 90-percent increase. "With the growth of this drug from the rural areas of the western and northwestern regions of this country and its slow but continuing spread to the east, local law enforcement officials see it as their number one drug problem," the report concluded.

The ONDCP's "Action Plan" refers to "drug-endangered children" as "the darkest side of the entire methamphetamine problem." In 2003 alone, more than 3,500 children in the United States were involved in meth lab incidents. The authors of the plan noted that "forty-one of these children were reported injured and one child was killed by explosions or fires" at illegal lab sites.

In the Pacific Northwest, lawmakers have stepped up legislation to combat the meth problem there. They aim to reduce the number of meth labs and the sale of the drug. But, they also have other issues to contend with regarding the use of methamphetamines. In 2005, police in several communities reported that a few teens had exchanged sex for meth. Law enforcement officials also announced that meth addicts had begun to support their habit by stealing metal and selling it for scrap at recycling centers. The addicts use the money to buy more meth. Thieves had stolen metal from irrigation systems, roadways, bridges, and even a historic train. They had removed guardrails on various back roads, particularly those in heavily forested areas. The guardrails protect drivers from going over the edge of bridges or driving off the edge of mountainous roads. Police in many communities participate on meth task forces to find ways to combat the problems of meth-related crime and abuse. Students, parents, and teachers also work to educate the public about the dangers of meth.

"The Faces of Meth"

In Multnomah County, Oregon, Sheriff 's Deputy Bret King noticed some differences when looking at a batch of mug shots taken of repeat meth offenders. What he saw was shocking. When looking at images taken just a few years apart, King discovered just how much meth abuse had changed people's appearances. Some users looked like they had aged ten to fifteen years in just a couple of years. In order to educate people about the meth problem and its devastating effects, King put together a presentation called "The Faces of Meth." In creating the program, he interviewed meth users to learn what advice they would give to young people who might be tempted to try meth. According to "The Faces of Meth" Web site, in his presentation, King wanted "to be honest with kids, let them hear directly from the inmates." The program is presented in schools and on the Internet.


A connection has been established between methamphetamine use and AIDS. In the article "Hooked in the Haight: Life, Death, or Prison," Jon Bonné quoted San Francisco-based meth abuse counselor Michael Siever. "If you're at a party where a lot of people are injecting, when you put your needle down, someone else may pick it up." Sharing used needles greatly increases the risk of transmitting HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus, which leads to AIDS). Meth's reputation for lowering inhibitions and enhancing sexual pleasure often leads users to engage in unprotected sex--another major reason for the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The Law

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. The CSA established five schedules, or lists, of controlled medications and substances. Substances in Schedule I have the highest potential for abuse, while those in Schedule V have the lowest abuse potential. A Schedule II substance is approved for medical use with a prescription but nevertheless has a high potential for abuse.

Unless obtained by prescription, the possession, use, or distribution of methamphetamine is prohibited in the United States. Each of these offenses carries a maximum ten years in prison and $10,000 fine. Repeat offenders receive much harsher jail sentences and fines of up to several million dollars.

Pseudoephedrine Measures

To fight the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, some of the chemicals used in its production are included in the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (MCA). The MCA increased penalties for the trafficking and manufacturing of methamphetamine along with the chemicals used to produce the drug. Illegal labs can produce about 1.5 pounds (0.68 kilograms) of meth from 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of ephedrine. Pseudoephedrine, a substance found in cold medicines, can be used for the same purpose. Stores that sell pseudoephedrine are required to report to authorities any large-volume sales of the chemical.

By mid-2005, about thirty states had either passed or were considering passing laws that would limit the sale of pseudoephedrine. Some retailers have voluntarily moved these "over-the-counter" medicines "behind-the-counter" to the pharmacy area. There, the products are locked up and distributed only in limited amounts to customers showing picture identification. Federal and state laws restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines are leading drug companies to reformulate their products with a substance called phenylephrine (FENN-uhl-EFF-reen or FENN-uhl-EFF-rin). Phenylephrine has been used in the past as an ingredient in eye drops and decongestants. It cannot be converted to methamphetamine in a home laboratory. As of mid-2005, cold products that contain phenylephrine were being sold in Europe. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 requires retailers of non-prescription products containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine to place these products behind the counter or in a locked cabinet. Consumers must show identification and sign a logbook for each purchase.

In 2006, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) established stricter national controls for the sale of products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The act's retail sales restrictions, stronger criminal penalties, and provisions for enhanced international enforcement have directly contributed to the sharp reduction in domestic methamphetamine production. While this law has significantly reduced the number of illegal United States methamphetamine producers, imports from Mexico, Canada, and some Asiatic nations continue to be a problem. Perhaps significantly, although methamphetamine is available by prescription, the Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control focuses on illicit laboratories and the diversion of precursor materials rather than methamphetamine itself.

Key Terms

harmful, poisonous, or capable of causing death
substances that help spread nerve impulses from one nerve cell to another
poisonous substances
pronounced ih-FEH-drinn; a chemical substance that eases breathing problems
pronounced SUE-doh-ih-FEH-drinn; a chemical similar to ephedrine that is used to relieve nasal congestion
a chemical compound composed of the elements hydrogen and chlorine, often in the form of a crystallized salt
black market
the illegal sale or trade of goods; drug dealers are said to carry out their business on the "black market"
making, selling, or distributing a controlled drug
wild overnight dance parties that typically involve huge crowds of people, loud techno music, and illegal drug use
hepatitis A
inflammation of the liver caused by a virus
upset stomach, sometimes with vomiting
a loss of feeling, consciousness, or movement caused by the breaking or blocking of a blood vessel in the brain
groups of cells that receive stimuli
pronounced ann-heh-DOE-nee-uh; the inability to experience pleasure from normally enjoyable life events
cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
a type of therapy that helps people recognize and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior
inner thoughts that keep people from engaging in certain activities

Children of Users Suffer Neglect

The growing abuse of methamphetamine has had an enormous impact on users' children. As of 2005, the child welfare issue was particularly problematic in rural areas of the United States. Oklahoma and Kentucky seem to have been hit especially hard. The number of neglected children in these areas has skyrocketed as more and more parents have begun using, making, and selling methamphetamine at home.

According to Kate Zernike in a July 2005 New York Times article, the problem is compounded by the fact that these rural areas lack the kind of social services needed to help youths who have been raised in a drug-using environment. Under such circumstances, children are forced to fend for themselves because their parents are often either high or sleeping off the effects of their last binge. When parents are arrested for their drug activity, their underage kids are typically placed in foster homes.

"Many of these neglected children struggle with emotional, developmental and abandonment issues," noted Zernike. "It has become harder to attract and keep foster parents because the children of methamphetamine arrive with so many behavioral problems; they may not get into their beds at night because they are so used to sleeping on the floor, and they may resist toilet training because they are used to wearing dirty diapers."

Was Hitler a User?

During World War II (1939-1945), methamphetamine was one of several stimulant drugs given to soldiers to fight off battle fatigue. Some experts suspect that Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) used methamphetamine regularly from the mid-1930s until the end of the war, when he committed suicide in an underground bunker. According to the 2005 History Channel television documentary High Hitler, "In 1938 the king of Italy told his foreign minister that Hitler was being injected [with] narcotics and stimulants. Hitler's valet said that every morning before he got out of bed he had an injection that made him immediately alert and fresh for the day."

Hitler also had symptoms such as tremors, shuffling, and poor eyesight. It is unknown if some of these symptoms were caused by a neurological disorder such as Parkinson's disease, or by a drug habit. It is well documented, however, that Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell, provided him with a variety of daily medications. As noted in "High Hitler," Morell admitted in his diary that he supplied Hitler with a substance called "vitamultin" in both pill and injectable form. Many experts are convinced that Germany's leader was taking methamphetamine. Historians believe that Hitler's drug abuse affected his judgment and may have influenced his decision-making abilities during the war.

Oregon Takes Action

To combat the illegal production of methamphetamine in Oregon, the state's lawmakers moved to make various over-the-counter (OTC) medications available only by prescription. Through such actions, occurring in mid-2005, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to reclassify OTC cold and allergy products containing pseudoephedrine as prescription drugs. The bill was signed into law and made effective starting in mid-2006. The news was met with enthusiasm by some citizens and concern from others.

Meth is one of the biggest drugs of abuse in Oregon. As such, lawmakers looked for ways to make it more difficult for meth cooks to obtain the ingredients needed to make it. While the bill passed by a large margin in both Oregon's House and Senate, some citizens believe that the new law will create a hardship for the state's citizens who do not have health insurance or cannot afford to go to a doctor. Plus, others contend that they are being punished because of the illegal actions of a few criminals. Cold and allergy drug makers also have concerns about the new law, claiming that it will drive up the price of the once-inexpensive OTC drugs.

Those favoring the bill point out that pseudoephedrine-free cold and allergy products are beginning to enter the market. In addition, doctors will be able to phone in prescriptions of the drug, so a visit to one's physician may not be necessary. Whether the measure will curb illegal meth production in Oregon will be studied by various lawmakers, police officers, and other researchers in the years ahead.

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Methamphetamine." UXL Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances, Gale, 2010. Gale Health and Wellness, Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CV2646400036