Virtually no one missed ‘X-Files’ creator Vince Gilligan’s runaway hit, ‘Breaking Bad.’ A story of a man at the crossroads of seemingly impossible decision after impossible decision, the show was timed perfectly, debuting around the time that use of methamphetamines, or meth, in the United States began to steadily rise.
Methamphetamines, or meth, can take several forms. Crystal meth is the pretty, crystalline version of the drug that is usually smoked. Powder is another form, which is consumed either by snorting it or placing it under one’s tongue or on the wet, fleshy side of the lip. Still another option is pills, which are still occasionally prescribed to assist with adult ADHD. Crystal meth is widely agreed to be the most powerful incarnation of the highly-addictive drug. For years, it has been presented as the poster drug for rapid and debilitating addiction.
Unlike Breaking Bad, it is unusual that people who manufacture or use the drug have neat, happy endings that end with the death of the bad guys, and the freedom of the good guys. The drug game surrounding the production and distribution of methamphetamines is as dangerous and violent as the behaviors typical of a meth high can be. From the people who obtain the raw materials needed for the production process to the person who ultimately gets high, nearly everyone involved in the meth world poses a physical threat to themselves and those around them. Like nearly every popular drug, it started as a medicine with a specific purpose, but abuse created a new reputation for what was once a small discovery.
The Beginning of Meth
Methamphetamine was first created in Germany near the end of the 19th century. Lažar Edeleanu, an ethnic Romanian residing in Germany, formulated meth from amphetamine. Just a few short years later, the drug was synthesized in Japan by Dr. Nagayoshi Nagai, who named it, ‘methamphetamine.’ It wasn’t long before the substance was re-created by yet another Japanese scientist, but it is unclear what that scientist did with the chemical that was created.
Meth in World War II
The drug didn’t enter the open markets, or create much of a stir until World War II, when soldiers in Germany, and possibly in Japan, were given the drug to help keep them awake. After a short time, though, it was noted that the tablet given to soldiers to ramp up the fight had nasty side effects: the soldiers would be wonderfully active on the first day of taking the drug, but then fall into a terrible hangover that lasted for days. Even when the drug was in effect, the effect that the drug had on the soldiers wasn’t always positive: reports surfaced of soldiers attacking innocent people around them, or attacking their officers. More and more reports of German soldiers’ violent tendencies while using the drug poured in, and distribution of the drug to German soldiers suddenly and sharply declined.
Meth After World War II
Meth was introduced to the United States in the form of a commercial diet pill. The supplement was a huge success, and remained a popular appetite suppressant and energy enhancer through the 1950s and 1960s. But by the time the 1960s were over, the ill and addictive effects of meth were well-documented, and the drug was pulled from shelves as a means of derailing people who were addicted and preventing new cases of addiction from starting. In the 1970s, the startlingly-addictive methamphetamine was registered as a Schedule II Narcotic with the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), where its status remains illegal to this day.
Meth and Drug Lords
According to several sources, the popularity of meth on the black market began in the late 1980s, when motorcycle gangs, usually from economically-depressed, rural areas, began making the drug due to its effects. What these gangs really wanted to use and sell was cocaine, but that drug was far too expensive. By using commonly-purchased and commonly-used household ingredients, the first meth labs in the United States began to shape the landscape of the US drug scene.
Meth and the Cartels
While small gangs here and there in the United States were making and distributing meth to a growing community of users, stronger and much more dangerous versions of the drug began to trickle in from across the border in the 1980s and 1990s. It wasn’t long before various drug cartels in Mexico began to shift their focus to feeding the endless desire for more and stronger drugs in the United States and Canada. Today, most of the meth that anyone may find for sale on the street has likely come from Mexico (who is also the United States’ largest supplier of marijuana), or another countries in Latin America. The number of users and deaths from the drug has recently exploded: from the end of the early 2000s, through today, the number of meth-related overdoses and deaths rose about 25%.
Who is using meth today? Many sources claim that people from ‘all walks of life’ will typically use meth. While there is truth in this, there is a demographic that is most likely to try, abuse, and become addicted to meth, and that is very young white men. The average person addicted to meth is around 20, white, and a male living near a city. While there are absolutely many users and meth-addicted individuals who aren’t white, male, or cosmopolitan, the sweeping majority of buyers and users in the United States fit the bill of Jesse Pinkman, the supporting character to the titular character in ‘Breaking Bad.’
Meth addiction is a serious and dangerous problem. If you or someone you know is using meth, help is available.
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