28 Jul 2014

At Suncoast Rehabilitation Center, we help individuals addicted to all sorts of drugs, one of which is methamphetamine.  This drug is one which many people associate with crime, exploding labs out in the boonies, and the TV show Breaking Bad.  But what’s the truth here?  Here we take a look at what this drug is and how it’s connected to crime.

What is Methamphetamine?

First, methamphetamine can be obtained in two VERY different ways:

  1. There is a pill form that is prescribed (sold as Desoxyn and Methadrine).
  2. There is the kind made in house-labs, etc.


While a prescription methamphetamine can still be sold on the streets, when one hears “Meth” it is usually referring to the kind made on the streets, in houses, etc.

Second, methamphetamines are amphetamines that are made more “powerful” so to speak.  To be a little more technical, in an amphetamine, the ingredients have been chemically processed once (this process is called methylation), but in the methamphetamine, the amphetamine drug is then processed again – thus, has been processed twice. That is why it is called methamphetamine.  In a standard laboratory, this process is done in a standard method.  In a home-lab, this process is done with highly toxic chemicals.

What is the illegal Methamphetamine made of?

One idea that follows meth is that it’s easy to make.  The controversial singer Miley Cyrus said in an interview that she could “cook meth” because of the show Breaking Bad, claiming it was a how-to manual on the subject.  While there is certainly plenty of chemistry in the show, one misstep in reproducing Walter White’s formula is actually incredibly dangerous – as the show also demonstrates. 

Meth-DEA Image

So, what is meth – really?  The drug amphetamine is processed using a mix of highly toxic chemicals that many would never consider breathing in or ingesting individually.  These include:

  • Lye – a highly corrosive liquid that can cause chemical burns as soon as it touches your skin.
  • Methanol – a chemical used in some cars that is also extremely corrosive.
  • Red phosphorus – this is found on the red tip of wood matches – so obviously it’s flammable.
  • Ether – another corrosive liquid.
  • Polyethylene glycol – found in brake fluid.  This is literally so corrosive that if you spill it on your car, it will eat away the paint.  It’s also extremely flammable.
  • Hydrochloric acid – most things with “acid” in their name may make one a little wary of consumption.  This is no exception.  This acid is used to remove rust from steel, in some household cleaning, and to produce compounds like polyurethane.  It has to be used with extreme care because it can also dissolve human flesh.
  • Sodium hydroxide – this is a chemical found in the popular drain cleaning agent Drano.  Anyone who has used this product would know that it’s not a good idea to get it on yourself as its function is to dissolve anything non-metal in its path.
  • These are just a few of the components used in making homemade meth.  These extremely dangerous chemicals can be bought by pretty much anyone.  Because they are dangerous – both when mixed together and when just left on their own – one of the jobs of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is to seize lab sites as well as places where these chemicals are dumped.

    According to the DEA, the year 2012 saw 11,210 seizures of these labs or dump sites.  These numbers seem to be reducing in the West Coast, while some portions of the East Coast are seeing more of such sites. Some of the states that have had an increase in these numbers include: Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, New York, Vermont, Maine, Ohio, and Michigan.

    Effects of Meth

    We know that street methamphetamine is a mix of dangerous chemicals that are often found in common household supplies.  But the drug methamphetamine has been labeled a Schedule II substance.  This means that, while it’s highly addictive, it is considered that it has legitimate medical uses.  Another Schedule II substance in a similar boat is cocaine.  Both are common street drugs that are also used for legitimate medical situations.

    Methamphetamine itself is a stimulant.  When prescribed, it is provided in pill form and the prescription cannot be refilled – it has to be re-prescribed any time a patient gets low on his or her prescription.  Medically it’s prescribed to young people (at or above 6 years old) with ADHD and to those (over 12 years old) who suffer from obesity which is unaffected by diet or other medications.

    Meth can cause the following issues in anyone – whether they are taking the drug as prescribed or are using a street drug:

  • Constipation or indigestion
  • Weight loss
  • Stunted growth in children
  • Itching, skin rash, hives, or welts
  • Dizziness, feeling faint, headache, exhaustion
  • Euphoria and false sense of wellbeing
  • Agitation or mood swings
  • Loss of sexual ability, desire, or drive
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty breathing 
    Meth Mouth
  • Chest pain and/or irregular pulse
  • Infertility
  • Dental problems
  • Shakiness or swelling in extremities
  • Uncontrolled twitching, twisting, or repetitive movements of extremities, tongue, lips, or face
  • Uncontrolled vocal outbursts, tics, and Tourette’s syndrome
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Addiction
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Brain damage
  • Damage to the heart
  • Stroke
  • Sudden death due to heart failure

Further, the use of methamphetamine drains the body of calcium. As calcium is used up, it is pulled from the teeth and bones. This leads to severe tooth and jaw problems, which are classic symptoms of prolonged meth abuse. Again, all of the above symptoms can happen when one is taking either prescribed methamphetamine (exactly as per their prescription) or street methamphetamine.  There are additional effects that come from smoking meth, like lung damage, violent behavior, overdose, and more.

Despite all of the hazards of methamphetamine use, national surveys state that 5.5% of American adults 26 or older have taken meth within their lifetime. That’s over 57 million people.

How Does Methamphetamine Connect with Crime? 

A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that that meth users had committed double the number of violent crimes than those abusing heroin within the previous 12 months.  Another study done by the University of California shows that about 60% of meth users self-reported committing violent crimes. Still another study published in the Journal of Drug Issues indicates that slightly more men who use meth than women are likely to commit violent crimes.  These crimes ranged from domestic violence to gang related crimes to random acts of violence.

More specific areas around the US include:

In the 1970s and ’80s methamphetamine production and distribution was handled primarily by outlaw biker gangs. But as the use of the drug increased, the Mexican mafia-type gangs became the major manufacturers and distributors of the drug throughout the continental United States. In Hawaii, crystal meth has been connected with Asian criminal organizations as well as Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Small laboratories are used by individuals to cook meth relatively small batches of meth, independent of the major gang distribution channels. For many years meth labs were located in rural areas where the odors produced during the manufacturing process would not be noticed. This has led to considerable environmental contamination of national forests and rural areas due to the toxic chemicals used. Increasingly meth is being cooked in urban areas, where the risks of contamination as well as explosions and fires make even the manufacturing of the drug a serious health risk. 

A 2012 Oklahoma City reports an increase in meth-related crime rates.  These crimes range from identity theft (to finance a meth addiction), armed assault against police officerd, and even one woman attempting to cook meth inside a Walmart.

According to news sources, North Dakota has seen a huge uptick in methamphetamine trafficking with meth coming into the state by the pound.  This is reflected by a 19.5% increase in drug offenses statewide.  Crime statistics for this state show that violent crime has more than doubled since 2004.

Methamphetamine is a horrific drug that ruins lives.  If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, contact us today at (877) 850-7355.  We have a highly effective program which has helped many people beat meth addiction.

Refs: Justice.gov, DrugAbuse.gov, DHS.Wisconsin.gov, Methproject.org, Zap2it.com, Lynnpolice.org, Drugs.com, Census.gov, NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov, FBI.gov, Grandforksherald.com, Koco.com, Jod.sagepub.com, amphetamines.com