Friday, October 28, 2011

The devil's kitchen in rural America

Crank, crystal, white crunch, amp, speed, glass, ice, "P", and many more all refer to the same thing, methamphetamine or meth, a drug that is taking rural America by storm. Meth isn't a new drug. It was first synthesized in Japan in 1893 with the aim of treating narcolepsy and depression. It was approved by the FDA in 1944 but later had its approval revoked. It was even distributed to Allied and Axis forces during WWII, prior to any known negative effects of the drug. It wasn't until 1960 that meth became a recreational drug, often supplied by street gangs.

Unlike many street drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, meth is easily made from common household chemicals. Ingredients vary depending on the "recipe" but usually include variances of ephedrine (a nasal decongestant), battery acid, Drano, match heads, fertilizer, lantern fuel, ammonia, and road flares. Once mixed, the chemical are "cooked" or reduced down to a white or brown crystal. The end result, prior to any preparation for use, often appears as thin shattered glass.

Meth is as versatile in the ways to make it as ways to use it. Users smoke the crystals in glass bulbous pipes or mix it with tobacco or marijuana cigarettes, dissolve it in liquid for drinking, inject it intravenously, or snort it similar to cocaine.

Besides the obvious health issues associated with meth use, additional problems include the potential environmental impacts the caustic chemicals have on the environment. many believe the drug also increases crime related to the use, sale, and purchase of meth. Rural America has been hit the hardest by meth.

Rural areas make ideal places to "cook" meth. The private expansive spaces and access to large quantities of potential ingredients, usually stolen from local farmers, has created a serious problem for rural communities. Based on federal drug statistics, Asa Hutchinson of the Drug Enforcement Administration said, ''I would call it (meth) the No. 1 drug problem in rural America."

Rural areas are seeing an increase in the drug's use and manufacturing. Sheriff and city police departments are having to conduct an increasing number of meth lab busts, industrial burglary investigations of chemicals, domestic violence, and child endangerment cases. The often small rural agencies are often stretched thin on resources and money to combat the drug. The result is that the drug is winning the fight.

Along with the increase in crime these communities must also deal with the dangerous chemicals left over from making the meth. For every one pound of meth that hits the street approximately five to six pounds of toxic waste are created. The toxic waste leftovers are often simply dumped by the "cookers". These chemicals flow into local groundwater supplies, streams and lakes, and they wreak havoc on the local environment. Again, the small budgets of rural governments are often limited in what they can do to properly clean up the hazards.

There are several sources online that are helpful in understanding the serious effects of meth on the individual and on the community. Deputy Sheriff Bret King, of Multnomah County, has organized a website entitled "Faces of Meth." The website shows images of Multnomah County inmates and their rapid changes after getting involved in meth. America Meth is a short documentary, narrated by actor Val Kilmer, that explores the effects meth is having on America's communities and families.

As the meth problem grows in middle America, many ask what can be done to better combat the drug. Some look to stricter drug laws, while others look to better education concerning the drug's effects. Either way something needs to be done to limit the consequences of meth before The Devil's Kitchen becomes too popular a restaurant.

A few related blog posts are Meth in Europe and When the drug trades comes to town.


Scarecrow said...

Oregon dealt with this problem by requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine products. After the law went into effect in 2006, the number of meth labs in the state plummeted. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sponsored legislation last year that would extend Oregon's law to the entire country. So far, it doesn't seem like one of Congress' top priorities.

JT said...

It's interesting that at one point, meth was actually approved by the FDA. As with most drugs, once they go rogue and are distributed in the streets with no means of regulation, that's when there's a problem. In addition to the health and economic hazards meth labs present, the environmental effects are quite startling as well. If cooking meth is known to be the number one problem in rural areas, perhaps regulation should target the areas accordingly. At the same time, this raises the issue of whether there are sufficient resources to even enforce regulations on those drugs in the first place. I am curious as to what further action will be taken to address this problem.

Patricija said...

Scarecrow, it is interesting that you note that the number of meth labs in Oregon plummeted. But I wonder if that policy only decreased the amount of meth users and not necessarily drug abusers.

Oregon has the second highest abuse of prescription drugs ( and experts fear that "heroin will soon replace meth as the scourge of the South Coast" (

While I think policies such as requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine products are short term solutions, it doesn't solve the underlining problems that lead to rural drug use. I believe polices that address education, employment and poverty would be more effective.

JLS said...

As you mentioned, one way that we've fought any war on drugs (successful or not) is through education. I wonder about the role of popular culture in that education? Does more awareness of meth make it less desirable? Or easier to procure? I've never watched the show "Breaking Bad," but I understand that the protagonists, who make meth, are fairly likable. The show is wildly popular, but I'm not sure it has encouraged a deeper debate on meth in rural America.