Thursday, September 3, 2009

Meth's migration to the city

Methamphetamine has long been associated with rural places. It is not surprising, then, that a quick search of Google News found reports of numerous meth busts in rural locales last week, including raids at a mobile home near Darlington, FL (population 10,030), a home in Stacy, MN, (population 1,278), and another in Gulfport, MS (population 71,127).

Also making headlines recently are reports about a new method of meth production, the so-called "Shake-and-Bake" technique.
This is the new formula for methamphetamine: a two-liter soda bottle, a few handfuls of cold pills and some noxious chemicals. Shake the bottle and the volatile reaction produces one of the world's most addictive drugs.


[Now] drug users are making their own meth in small batches using a faster, cheaper and much simpler method with ingredients that can be carried in a knapsack and mixed on the run.
Traditional meth production requires "cooking" chemical ingredients over an open flame, which produces a malodorous stench. This leads producers to favor rural places, where the odors are less detectable. Now, with the tell-tale cooking odor of meth production largely eliminated by the new method, a producer no longer requires a physically isolated lab.

The new "Shake-and-Bake" recipe also lacks a key ingredient used in traditional meth production: anhydrous ammonia. This chemical, a commonly used farm fertilizer, is accessible to rural producers from farm storage tanks. The new method, however, replaces anhydrous ammonia with ammonium nitrate, a compound found in instant cold packs, available at any drug store.

Is meth's relationship with the rural coming to an end? If a producer no longer needs to visit a farm to gather ingredients or conceal the foul cooking odors in a physically isolated location, will the meth epidemic shift from small towns to big cities?

NPR reported today that "[o]ne meth lab found recently in Tulsa was in a stairwell of a state office building." The new technology makes meth production accessible to anyone with 10 square feet of privacy--a bathroom stall, the backseat of car, a studio apartment in a New York City high rise.

A meth lab explosion in Mobile, AL prompted Mobile Officer Christopher Levy to point out, "You know it's possible that it's not necessarily going to be isolated to rural areas, but it can also work its way into normal neighborhoods."

If meth moves from the country to the city, will rural America finally be able to shake its reputation as Methland? And would that be a good thing?

Just because the epidemic is moving into urban places, certainly does not mean that it is leaving rural places. It can't be overlooked that shaking a two-liter bottle in rural Tipton County, TN is just as easy as shaking a two-liter in San Francisco, CA. But, as the nation's attention shifts to meth production in cities, a net loss in resources may be the ultimate result for rural stakeholders. Indeed, as policy-makers turn to combat the meth epidemic in metropolitan areas, rural locales may lose their Methland reputation and, in turn, may simply be forgotten.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Note that the sheriff calls non-rural locales "normal neighborhoods." That says a lot about our evolving image of the rural. Is "the heartland" now "methland": i.e. the definition of abnormal when it was once the bedrock of normal?