With the worsening opioid crisis in the U.S., opioid drugs have taken center stage, but what about the growing U.S. meth problem? Methamphetamine addiction and abuse are back with a vengeance, but few people are talking about the consequences as opioid overdose deaths continue to overshadow the damage being done by meth.
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that produces powerful feelings of euphoria and energy when it’s abused. Many meth addicts binge on this drug to maintain their high, foregoing basic necessities like food and sleep in the process. Because it is so addictive, meth is extremely difficult to stop using once a person has developed a habit of regular use. Meth is usually produced in powder or pill form, although another rock form called crystal meth is also frequently abused. Side effects of meth abuse are severe and include:
Increased risk of hepatitis B and C
The History of Methamphetamine
After it was first synthesized in 1893, meth was used to treat several medical conditions including asthma, narcolepsy, and weight loss. Later in 1932, the American pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, and French marketed an amphetamine inhaler called Benzedrine for asthma and nasal congestion. At this point, the drug was available without a prescription, so many people experienced its powerful stimulant effects. Meth use increased during World War II when soldiers used a nonprescription form of methamphetamine called Pervitin to increase their endurance. A decade later, the negative effects of meth use were well-known, and it was common knowledge that the drug was addictive. Regardless, recreational abuse of Benzedrine or “bennies” remained common. It wasn’t until 1959 that the FDA began requiring prescriptions for Benzedrine and abuse started to taper off because the drug was more difficult to obtain. The U.S. outlawed meth in 1970 but public abuse of meth continued. During the 1980s, U.S. regulations cracked down on the sale and use of ephedrine, an ingredient used to make crystal meth. As a result, illegal meth producers resorted to using pseudoephedrine to make meth instead. Once this happened, crystal meth abuse skyrocketed and between 1994 and 2004, meth use grew from just 2 percent of the U.S. population to 5 percent. In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act and meth sales plummeted. However, Mexican drug cartels started bringing it back into America. Just a year later, the World Health Organization declared meth the most abused hard drug on earth. Although meth use started to decline shortly after, and in 2012, just 0.4 percent of the U.S. population reported using meth in the past year, the use of prescription stimulants exploded. These stimulants, which provide similar effects as meth, are being prescribed to children, teens, and adults alike. In 2012, about 16 million Adderall prescriptions were written for adults ages 20 to 39. In recent years, meth abuse has taken a turn for the worse. The number of drug overdose deaths involving meth more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, increasing from about 1,400 to nearly 4,000. Additionally, meth seizures at the border tripled between 2012 and 2018.
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The Resurgence of Methamphetamine in the U.S.
Methamphetamine abuse in the U.S. may have tapered off years ago, but it is back and it’s wreaking havoc on the health and wellbeing of Americans everywhere. According to the DEA, meth is cheaper, more potent, and easier to get than before. While 30 percent of agencies responding to the 2017 National Drug Threat Survey said meth was the biggest drug threat in their areas, 36 percent also said meth had the highest correlation with violent crimes. The meth threat in America remains constant, and although domestic production has dropped, seizures of meth on the Mexican border have increased annually, tripling between the years of 2012 and 2018. Additionally, meth overdose deaths doubled between 2010 and 2014, increasing by 2,600. According to the New York Times, about 6,000 Americans died from stimulant drug use (mostly meth) in 2015, which is a 255 percent increase from just ten years prior. Both urban and rural areas in states all across the U.S. are being ravaged by meth and the problem has even been declared an epidemic in South Dakota. The meth problem has essentially exploded in recent years, leaving no race or social class untouched.
Where is the Meth Coming From?
Most of the meth in America is supplied by Mexican drug cartels. According to the DEA, there are four major methamphetamine trafficking organizations. Meth is smuggled across borders in various ways, including on foot, in cars, or in trucks. It’s also converted into a liquid, so it can be more easily hidden in products like shampoo, beverages, and food. Mexican cartel organizations may also store meth in strange containers to evade border control and law enforcement.
Consequences of the Meth Problem in America
Rampant methamphetamine abuse doesn’t just affect users; it has severe consequences for everyone. Just a few of the major concerns regarding meth abuse and addiction in the U.S. include:
Increased violent crime
Higher rates of hepatitis C, stroke, and psychosis
Higher death toll
More people incarcerated due to drug offenses, property crimes, and violent crimes
More people dependent and addicted to meth
Growing methamphetamine abuse in America continues to be a serious problem with devastating effects, but whether it will continue to be overshadowed by the opioid crisis remains to be seen.
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