It fueled the paving of the Autobahn. And it's kept untold numbers of Hell's Angels on the road. Hillbillies love it. Truckers love it too. And so does the gay circuit party set. Because it helps 'em all drive through the night, whether they've got places to go or not. It's meth, baby. And it's back. Now deadlier than ever.

A Little Meth History

Meth's traces back to a group of shrubs known as ephedra. These plants have been used for thousands of years in China, Pakistan, India and the Americas to make teas that help open airways and treat asthma, as well as congestion and cough. Ephedrine was first isolated from the plant in 1887. Six years later, amphetamine was developed from ephedrine. Pharmaceutical companies continue to produce both to this day.

Big Pharma also used to produce crystallized methamphetamine, which was first extracted from ephedrine using iodine and red phosphorus back in 1919. Methamphetamine was easier to make than amphetamine. It was also a lot more potent. Which is undoubtedly why Hitler gave the drug to his legions of stormtroopers.

Both amphetamine and methamphetamine initially existed without any particular purpose. So they were applied to a variety of maladies and disorders till a purpose was found. Eventually, the drugs were used as general pick-me-ups, antidepressants and diet pills. They also helped clear a person's airwaves. And you could buy meth-based nasal decongestants over the counter up until the early '60s.

Throughout the '50s, the Beats favored amphetamines (now rechristened simply "speed"). So did veterans, who were first served speed during WWII. Hippies, housewives and college students followed suit. Then in 1971, the Federal Government cracked down on amphetamine abuse. With nowhere else to turn, speed freaks had to get inventive. And that opened the door to a whole world of hurt.

Meth as a Staple

The Feds may have limited physicians capacity to prescribe amphetamine, but they didn't take meth's active ingredient off the shelves. That's right, the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine used in cold medicines such as Sudafed and Contac remained widely available. And it didn't take long for people to figure out a way to extract the speed from the cold, cough and sneeze meds.

Of course a chemist needed chemicals to mix with the ephedrine before he could cook up meth, chemicals like anhydrous ammonia. Anhydrous ammonia is used in the production of farm fertilizer, which is largely why meth abuse first spread among rural communities. But cooks soon discovered paint thinner, acetone, and battery acid worked just as well. And that led to the spread of the drug along the West Coast.

This new meth was four-to-six times stronger than earlier batches. It was also 10 times more toxic. And just as dangerous to make. As more and more meth addicts started appearing in jails and emergency rooms, and more and more home meth labs began blowing up, the Feds finally restricted access to ephedrine and its cousin, pseudoephedrine. Domestic production came to a virtual standstill. That's when the Mexican Cartels got in on the action.

Meth Abuse Now

The Journal of the American Medical Association says amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The cost of amphetamine-related hospitalizations have of course also jumped. From $436 million in 2003 to nearly $2.2 billion in 2015.

Yet with the rising costs to the healthcare system came a drop in the price of meth itself. In Oklahoma in 2012, an ounce of meth cost about $1,100. It now goes for $250 to $450. Law enforcement officials in Virginia, Ohio and Florida report a similar price drop. Why? Because those Mexican superlabs that have replaced the "shake and bake" home kitchens of yesteryear are now producing meth by the tons.

Indeed, the U.S. Border Patrol says meth seizures have multiplied tenfold over the last eight years, increasing from 8,900 pounds in 2010 to nearly 82,000 pounds so far in 2018. There's no telling how much of the drug wasn't seized.

Worse, meth is now being laced with fentanyl, which of course exorbitantly increases the chances of overdose. And even if the meth is fentanyl-free, users are mixing it with heroin. And these days heroin is rarely free from fentanyl.

The most significant increases of meth deaths have been in Western states. In California, for instance, the number of amphetamine-related overdose deaths rose by 127 percent from 2008 and 2013, as compared to an 8.4 percent increase in opioid-related overdose deaths. But the spread of meth is by no means limited to California. In fact, the federal government estimates America's meth-related drug overdoses last year numbered over 10,000.

And that's 10,000 too many.

If you or someone you know has a problem with meth or any other substance, please give us a call.

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