Methamphetamine Use in the United States
Methamphetamine Use in the United States
Methamphetamine, sometimes called crank, speed, or simply meth, is considered a major drug threat in the United States today - Methamphetamine Use in the United States introduction. Its growing popularity stems from several reasons. First, it is cheaper than other prohibited drugs. Second, its effect lasts longer than that of cocaine. Third, it is easily manufactured because it is made out of chemicals which could be obtained by almost anybody. Its main component is an ordinary medicine for colds which is “cooked” with the chemicals found in lithium batteries, starter fluid, and drain cleaners (Sanchez and Harrison).
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Methamphetamine is not only produced easily. Another factor which contributes to its wide acceptance is the fact that it could be used in a variety of ways: by smoking, by snorting, by oral ingestion, and by injection. In other words, a user is given several choices and does not need any special device before he or she could get high on methamphetamine (Office of National Drug Control Policy). When smoked or injected, the user immediately experiences an ‘intense rush.” Users who snort or ingest the drug orally, on the other hand, experience a high referred to as euphoric. The former feels the euphoria after only 3 – 5 minutes while the latter becomes euphoric after 15 or 20 minutes (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]).
Methamphetamine is very addictive. According to some people, it causes “violent and psychotic behavior.” Some of its side effects are stroke and cardiac arrhythmia, very high and therefore dangerous body temperature, and convulsions (Sanchez and Harrison). Other observers explained that methamphetamine also “pumps up the sex drive and makes users feel super-human” (Johnson). Users have also been observed to suffer from extreme anxiety, mood disturbances, and insomnia. Some symptoms of psychosis such as hallucination, paranoia, and delusions are said to last as long as several years after a user has actually stopped using the drug (ONDCP).
Meanwhile, NIDA, in updating its fact sheet in November 2006, issued a more expansive statement about the effects of methamphetamine:
Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and hyperthermia. Other effects of methamphetamine abuse may include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse and death. Long-term effects may include paranoia, aggressiveness, extreme anorexia, memory loss, visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, and severe dental problems (NIDA).
The effect of methamphetamine on pregnancy is a current subject of interest to some researchers in the country today. Lack of adequate data, however, has prevented investigators from coming up with valid conclusions. Available statistics in 2005 showed that out of the pregnant women between the ages of 15-44, less than one percent admitted to having used the substance the previous year. The limited studies have found, though, that methamphetamine increased the risk of premature delivery, retarded fetal growth, abruption of the placenta, and abnormalities in the brain and the heart of the fetus or the offspring (NIDA).
Methamphetamine use is also believed to aid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B and C, and especially HIV. This is particularly true in the case of those who use the substance through injection. As in other drugs, users have been found to re-use needles and syringes. Once such needles and syringes become contaminated, these diseases are transferred from one user to the next. HIV and sexually transmitted diseases could still be spread, however, even if users do not inject the drug. Unsafe sexual behaviors are often a direct result of the inhibition caused by the high that users get from methamphetamine. Studies have shown that “men who have sex with men (MSM)” after getting high from methamphetamine were the ones who were particularly victimized by the spread of HIV infection (NIDA).
Methamphetamine has almost the same physiological as well as behavioral effects that cocaine has on the user. However, whereas cocaine is easily removed from the body after the process of metabolism, methamphetamine usually remains in the body much longer because it is not easily metabolized. In other words, most of it stays, unchanged, in the body (especially the brain), resulting to a longer stimulant effect. This simply means that the physiological and behavioral effects of methamphetamine last longer than those of cocaine and other prohibited and addictive substances (NIDA).
Aside from the harmful direct and side effects of methamphetamine use, the process involved in producing the substance also entails a rather negative externality or consequence: hazardous waste which endangers not only human health but the environment as well. Studies have established that producing a pound of methamphetamine leaves behind approximately six pounds of highly hazardous toxic waste. What this means is that methamphetamine does not only harm its users but non-users as well, particularly law enforcement officers who come across these clandestine laboratories and residents of the area near where the drug is cooked (Sanchez and Harrison).
The main supply of methamphetamine in the country comes from two sources. Clandestine laboratories located around the country used to account for most of the supply while considerable quantities also come from Mexico. Since 2002, however, domestic production through the clandestine laboratories was believed reduced as a result of a two-pronged government campaign: actively seeking out and destroying clandestine laboratories and restricting accessibility to its chemical components particularly the retail sales of “ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products” (ONDCP).
ONDCP figures show that from 2002 up to October 11, 2007, a total of 40,976 clandestine laboratories were seized by law enforcement agencies. The breakdown of these seizures by year is shown in the table presented below:
Number of Laboratories seized
Jan.-Oct. 11, 2007
Authorities believed that the sharp decline in the number of laboratory seizures beginning in 2005 was due, in part, to the unavailability of the components used in methamphetamine production as a result of the restriction on the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products imposed by the states. A further drop in laboratory seizures occurred between 2006 and October 2007 because the “Federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005” took effect in September 2006. This Act set down restrictions on the nationwide retail sale of all products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine compounds (ONDCP).
Unfortunately, while a drop in the domestic production of the substance was indeed verified by intelligence reports, methamphetamine supply in the American drug market did not actually decrease substantially because Mexican distributors made up for the lost production brought about by the seizure of more than 40,000 clandestine laboratories. Some of the areas penetrated by the Mexican distributors were the Pacific, Great Lakes, Southwest, Southeast, and the West Central Regions of the United States. Although not accurately confirmed, additional supply could have entered the country from Canada because methamphetamine production in that country considerably increased due to the rivalry between Asian drug traffickers and the illegal motorcycle gangs (ONDCP).
As of 2004, the estimate of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that approximately 12 million individuals aged 12 years old and over were users of methamphetamine at one time or another. This figure represented 4.9 percent of the total number of individuals who were 12 years or older as of 2004. NSDUH believed that the same figure was also true for the years 2002 and 2003. Of the 12 million, 0.6 % or 1.4 million had admitted using the drug during the previous year while about 600,000 said they used methamphetamine within the past month. The average number of new methamphetamine users was placed at around 300,000 every year between 2002 and 2004, with 318,000 being the actual number of new initiates for 2004. The survey also found that the average age of new users became older from 2002 – 2004. In 2002, the new initiates to methamphetamine use had an average age of 18.9 years. For 2003, the average age was 20.4 years and in 2004, it was found to be 22.1 years old (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).
The NSDUH survey which was conducted in 2006 revealed that almost 6% out of the population of the United States whose ages ranged between 12 years old and over have used methamphetamine at least once during their lifetimes. The number of those who have used the substance during the previous year was found to be highest in the West with 1.6%. It was followed by the Southern states with 0.7%, then by the Midwest with 0.5%. The lowest rate was found in the Northeast at 0.3%. The rates in these regions were found to be consistent when compared to the 2002 statistics. Regarding the average number of new users, statistics revealed that an estimated 259,000 individuals were initiated to methamphetamine use in 2006. This figure did not differ greatly from the average number of new initiates for 2002, 2003, and 2004 which was 300,000. The estimated number of current methamphetamine users as of 2006 stood at 731,000 individuals aged 12 and over (ONDCP).
Methamphetamine use among students was observed to be on a steady decline. The 2005 result of the “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS),” a study which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been conducting among high students, showed that in 2001, 9.8% of all high school students admitted to having used the drug at least once in their lifetime. The figure decreased to 7.6% in 2003 and further to 6.2% in 2005. The same trend was seen on the number of lifetime users among high school students. For instance, for tenth graders, the percentage of lifetime users was 9.7% for 2001, 7.5% for 2003, 5.9% for 2005, 3.2% for 2006, and 2.8% for 2007. For the twelfth graders, the percentages were 12.8% (2001), 8.0 (2003), 6.4 (2005), 4.4% (2006), and 3.0% (2007). The same declining rate was seen among college students and young adults. The percentage of lifetime users among college students was estimated at 4.1% in 2005 and a lower 2.9% in 2006. For young adults, they were found to be 8.3% in 2005 and 7.3% by 2006 (ONDCP).
The data gathered from the ONDCP concerning lifetime users among high school students are shown in a comparative table presented below:
Lifetime users among high school students
according to the ONDCP
The trend, however, was reversed when the observation was directed at the state and federal prisons. Bureau of Justice Statistics figures for 1997 and 2004 obtained by ONDCP showed that in 1997, 19.4% of inmates in state prisons and 15.1% of federal prisoners reported using methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. Increases in these percentages were found in 2004 when 23.5% of state prisoners reported that they have used the substance during their lifetimes. Accordingly, a higher 17.9% of inmates in federal penitentiaries said that they have used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetimes (ONDCP). The complete data for the two years which the ONDCP obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics are shown in the table below:
Used meth when the crime
Used meth a month before
committing the crime
Used meth at least once a week
for at least one month
Used meth at least once in
In 2005, out of a total of 1,449,154 visits which involved drug abusers recorded in the emergency departments of hospitals in the United States, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that 108,905 (or 7.5%) of the cases were methamphetamine users. Meanwhile, the number of hospital admissions where patients sought treatment for methamphetamine abuse recorded a whopping 364% from 1996 (41,045 cases) to 2006 (149,415 cases). In 1996, methamphetamine-related admissions had only been 2.5% of the total admissions which concerned drug and alcohol abuse. By 2006, it rose to 8.3%, with the average age of the patient being 31 years old. In U.S. courts, meanwhile, 98% of the 5,395 defendants who were sentenced in connection with methamphetamine-related cases concerned defendants in methamphetamine trafficking cases (ONDCP).
Records of cases involving methamphetamine use varied in different states and cities particularly in 2002. In Hawaii, for instance, it was reported that methamphetamine use was on the rise, causing more deaths than alcohol abuse. Suicide rate due to methamphetamine abuse was particularly recorded in Hawaii. Increase in use also was observed in the California cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco where gays and bisexuals were said to be greatly involved. While admissions for treatments remained level and visits to emergency departments dropped in Seattle, methamphetamine use proved to be a big problem in Phoenix and “the big story” in Colorado in the state of Arizona, where overdose deaths were reported. The same reports were cited in Texas where “treatment admissions had increased and overdose deaths were up.” While its use remained low in Chicago, its use was widespread in the rural areas of Missouri (Maxwell).
Several statutes are already in place concerning methamphetamine abuse prevention. The substance has already been classified as a “Schedule II narcotic” under Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Under the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (MCA), the chemicals used in its production have also been placed under tight control, specifically ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, including phenylpropanolamine. The MCA likewise provided for increased penalties for the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine. In October 2000, the Children’s Health Act of 2000, which contained specific provisions which covered methamphetamine abuse prevention, its production, enforcement procedures, and treatment for abusers, was signed into law. President Bush, on March 9, 2006, also signed the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005. This law provided for the strengthening of the local, state, and federal efforts in combating the rise of methamphetamine abuse (ONDCP).
There is hope for the country, however. According to Quest Diagnostics Inc. who has been administering drug testing services to job applicants, positive test results for methamphetamine dropped by more than 22% from 2006 to 2007 (United Press International).
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2006. 22 March 2008. <http://www.nida.nih.gov/Infofacts/methamphetamine.html>
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22 March 2008. <http://www.drugabusestatistics.samhsa.gov/2k5/meth/meth.htm>
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Sanchez, Devonne, R. and Harrison, Blake. “The Methamphetamine Menace.”
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