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Methamphetamine: Its Use and The War Against It

Meth’s creation came about from the shrub emphera, where it them went through several uses until finally being used as a “pick me up” and such. Meth, despite having positive effects like increased awareness, also possesses terrible side effects like quickened aging, brain damage and a terrible sense of addiction. Meth, like most drugs, is distributed and sold by the drug trade. The drug trade is, at its core, a business. But the business is an illegal one nonetheless. In the fight against methamphetamines, law enforcement and agencies like the DEA do their part to fight against illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. The laws that police and such follow however have come from things such as the limitation of selling cold medicine (which contains ingredients to make methamphetamine) and legislation such as the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act 1970 which created the Drug Enforcement Administration. All of these factors combined equal the knowledge of what Methamphetamine is, how it is used, and what is being done to fight it.

Meth: Its Use and The War Against It

Methamphetamines are a dangerous and illicit type of drug, but to truly know what you’re dealing with when it comes to this drug, you must first understand it. Methamphetamines are a drug that affects the central nervous system, similar to amphetamine. However, Amphetamine has a very high potential for abuse with its users. As well, methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II narcotic. This is just a very basic outline of information concerning the drug, so to understand it better you need to know:

The creation of methamphetamine, it’s past uses and how it became what it is

The effects on the body

How it is criminally manufactured and distributed

What matters are being taken to fight Methamphetamine.

Once these concepts are learned and understood, the knowledge one possesses concerning Methamphetamine increases significantly. Meth is a drug that can and has destroyed lives, and until it is studied upon and fought, it will continue to grow and continue to destroy.

The first aspect of methamphetamines to understand is it’s creation. To first start talking about the creation of this drug, the discussion starts with the shrub called ephedra. This particular type of plant, which is found in many different parts of the world, has actually been used for thousands and thousands of years in countries such as China, Pakistan, India and America. It’s use was to make different types of teas that open up blocked airways and as well, to treat asthma and things such as congestion and a cough. In the year 1887, ephedrine, which is a type of amphetamine, was first isolated from the ephedra. After six years, methamphetamine was created from the ephedrine, and then 1919 the crystallized form of methamphetamine was first produced from the ephedrine as well. This was done using both iodine and red phosphorus. After all this, both amphetamine and methamphetamine actually existed, but really seems to have nor serve any real purpose. Eventually however these concentrated stimulants were applied to a wide variety of disorders, diseases, ailments, etc. in search of these substances true function. After time, methamphetamine and amphetamine were mainly used as a type “pick me up”, anti-depressant, and even a diet pill. The first real big use of methamphetamine came when their use occurred in World War II. Their use during this time was meant to rule and conquer the globe. How this happened was that Nazi leaders distributed a large quantity (in the millions) of doses of methamphetamine in some tablets. These tablets were called Pervitin. They were distributed to the Nazi infantry, sailors and airmen in during the War. However, it was not just the military that ended up using Methamphetamine as Pervitin was also sold to the German public which began happening in 1938. As a result over-the-counter meth became quite popular in the German population. Back on the war front, supplies would eventually run low on methamphetamine and when this happened, most soldiers would write to their families, demanding that the drug be shipped to them from home. During all this, in simply one four-month period during 1940, the soldiers of the German military ended up consuming more than 35 million methamphetamine tablets This very early occurrence in the history of meth demonstrated the addicting effects of the narcotic.

Over time, it was noticed that these drugs occasionally caused some adverse effects on the Nazi soldiers, but this was met essentially with indifference because methamphetamine was viewed as a tool towards a Nazi dream: having supersoldiers. Methamphetamine’s uses for the Nazi army continued even as the war neared it’s conclusion. Towards the end of World War II, a request was sent from German high command for a new type of drug that would both boost the soldier’s morale as well as their fighting ability. In response to this request, the German military scientists developed a new pill called D-IX, a pill that contained equal parts cocaine and painkiller ( an estimated 5 mg of both), and the methamphetamine tablet Pervitin (an estimated 3 mg). The pill did reach the testing stage, but the war had already ended before it could ever reach any of the German military forces. ­However, it wasn’t just the Nazis giving their soldiers some narcotics as both the American forces and the British forces were also consuming very large amounts of amphetamines, most notably a type called Dexedrine. As well, the Japanese had also developed its own military-grade amphetamine. After the War ended, the Japanese made amphetamine had a large stockpile left, which promptly flooded Japan’s streets. Eventually after World War II had ended, amphetamine ended up being manufactured, sold and prescribed in the United States as well as much of the world. Then by the late 1950s and early 1960s, it bacame very hard for the medical community to keep ignoring the growing number of normal patients who, through taking the prescribed methamphetamine, had become hopelessly addicted. These patients had become addicted to drugs like Benzedrine and Dexedrine. Also, it was discovered that Benzedrine inhalers, which were intended for use as bronchial idolaters, could be broken and opened up which exposed a piece of paper that was soaked in Benzedrine. This paper then could then be swallowed for a very strong and powerful high. This led to the American government responding by putting major restrictions over methamphetamines medical uses, which eventually led to people illegally making their own methamphetamine. (Shreve, n.d.)

Methamphetamines, chemically speaking, is similar to adrenaline which is hormone produced by the adrenal gland. It stimulates two different systems of the body: the symptheric and the central nervous system, causing lowered fatigue as well as alertness and a heightened sense of well-being. In moderate usage it can produce positive side effects such as increased physical activity, heightened sense and elevated mood. Negative side effects though are increased aging and decreased appetite. They are of course, far worse physical side effects though. (Gaines & Kraska, 2003) Methamphetamine physically speaking is a white, odorless, bitter tasting drug. It can come in forms of crystal, or as a powder. It can be taken by ingesting it, snorting it, smoking it, or injecting it. It is also easily dissolvable in liquids. No matter how it is administered however, methamphetamine is a destructive drug and affects the body in terrible ways. Methamphetamine can increase the release and also blocks the reuptake of the brain chemical called dopamine, which leads to very high levels of the dopamine chemical in the brain. This is a very common side effect of various drug use. The chemical dopamine is involved in the motivation, pleasure, reward, and motor function parts of the brain and methamphetamine has the ability to release the dopamine very rapidly to the reward regions of the brain. This produces the intense feeling of euphoria, or a feeling of “rush” that many methamphetamine users feel after taking the drug, no matter which way the drug is taken. Constant methamphetamine use and abuse significantly changes how the brain functions. Noninvasive human brain imaging studies have shown alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor skills and impaired verbal learning. Recent studies in chronic methamphetamine abusers have also revealed severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in chronic methamphetamine abusers. Repeated methamphetamine abuse can also lead to addiction—a chronic, relapsing disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, which is accompanied by chemical and molecular changes in the brain. Some of these changes persist long after methamphetamine abuse is stopped. Reversal of some of the changes, however, may be observed after sustained periods of abstinence. (“NIDA InfoFacts: Methamphetamine”, n.d.)

So now that we know what Meth is, how it is used and how it effects the body of its users, the question is: how does it reach its users? How is meth manufactured and distributed to the people who want it? As a reaction to steps taken to limit methamphetamine availability (steps that were taken during the 70s-80s) an increase in meth laboratories started taking place. These methamphetamine labs started producing meth which at this time had acquired the name “crank”. These labs are notorious for producing methamphetamine for several days then up and moving to another location to cook, never wanting to stay in one place for too long. (Ksir & Hart, 2008). Speaking of cooking methamphetamine, one of the main ingredients to cooking meth is over the counter cold medicine, While there are far more ways to cook meth, cold medicine provides the cheapest and most readily available alternative. The reason for cold medicine’s use is the ingredient of ephedrine which is easily extracted from cold medicines, such as the drug Sudafed. Although around 80 percent of methamphetamine on that is being distributed is produced in what is known as "superlabs" (supposedly located in California and Mexico) but the number of small labs has grown at a very fast rate in the United States over the past ten years, particularly in rural/country areas. The number of meth labs seized by federal authorities jumped to 13,092 in 2001 from 327 in 1995, according to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). (Madigan, 2004)

Once methamphetamine is made, most of the people who choose to cook methamphetamine wish to distribute and sell it to make profit. This is done through the drug trade. The criminal drug trade is a secret enterprise, where people, business decisions, and transactions all occur outside the view of the public. Now of course there are small time dealers who like to sell their own product, but the big picture is the drug trade because it is quite literally huge businesses who create and distribute their own product. The bottom line on the drug trade is that it is, at its core, a money drive operation. There is little to no care whatsoever to social responsibility or the damage done to the users of the product. While the drug trade is a business, it is in a lot of ways different from normal legal businesses. There is no customer friendly environment or standard in selling drugs. Many dealers will lie to customers on the quality of the product; some customers may even end up dead from the result of a deal gone bad. So while the drug trade is a business in the sense a product is produced for profit, it is still different. While methamphetamine is cooked and produced here in the United States, most of the methamphetamine that is sold and distributed here comes from other countries, the main country being Mexico. When it comes to the economics of the drug trade, it shares some similarities with most businesses. Such as, sometimes only small amounts of product is distributed to dealers on the streets in an effort to reduce losses, should they occur. Drug trafficking, besides a few exceptions, attracts mostly entrepreneurs who see the drug trade as a unbelievable opportunity to make money, despite the fact it’s illegal. A crucial part of how drugs like methamphetamines are sold is, of course, the pricing. Since making a profit is considered the mainstay of the methamphetamine business (and drug business in general), different variables definitely attribute to the establishment, rise and decline of drug prices. The ever present factors of supply and demand of course come into play here with different drugs having different demands in different areas at different times. A major factor contributing to demand also is the presence of police investigation, with the arrest of the top head of a drug business being a devastating blow. But knowing this plays a major role in why lower level drug dealers get handed the risk and responsibility of distributing on the streets. If one gets arrested, a new dealer is simply placed there or elsewhere to make up for the loss, and no business is lost. These smaller dealers are often given on smaller amounts of product to deal, but in addition to these lower level minions there may also be couriers who are given the bigger responsibility of taking larger shipments are transporting them from place to place. As mentioned, police investigations can get involved and disrupt the flow of a drug business and when this happens, the arrest of dealers certainly can happen with whatever product they possess being seized. But police seizure of drugs is not the only reason a loss of product can occur. There are also these reasons:

Product is stolen by a rival drug organization

To avoid police seizure, product is thrown away or destroyed

In the fear of police surveillance, some deals to trade product are cancelled

Some product is hidden and abandoned once a dealer is arrested

Thus, all of the factors are reasons why the balance of supply and demand can shift, which in turn can shift how a drug organization sets it prices. Another factor to keep in mind, is that it was mentioned earlier that the drug business does not care for its customers, no matter how personal they are known or how loyal. These businesses operate to serve one purpose: greed. This can also play a part in how drugs are priced, as a dealer can simply decide to charge what they want, with no care to the customer. Overall, this is a basic outline to how the drug (which includes methamphetamine) business operates and distributes harmful substances such as methamphetamine. (Lyman & Potter, 2007)

To combat this battle involving meth, states have taken measures to prevent the creation of methamphetamine. One way this has been done is the effort to secure over the counter cold medicine. An example of states taking action, the state of Oklahoma most recently enacted the United State's toughest law targeting the purchase of cold medicine. This law, which Gov. Brad Henry (D) signed on April 7, 2004 requires that medicine tablets containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, from which ephedrine can be derived, be sold only by pharmacists. That means many cold pills no longer will be available at grocery stores, gas stations or convenience stores. The law excludes cold medicines in the form of gel caps or liquids because they can't be used to make meth. The bill also requires shoppers to show a photo ID and to sign a registry showing where and how much they bought. Some drug industry officials are critical of the law, contending that it won't be effective and will limit the availability of over-the-counter medications for those who need them for coughs and colds. According to Elizabeth Assey (2004), a spokeswoman for the Consumer Health Products Association, which represents manufacturers and distributors of non-prescription drugs.was quoted as saying,

"Restrictions on everyday access to safe and effective medicine that many people use for legitimate use will yield more frustration from consumers, moving these products behind the pharmacy (counter) is really not going to get at the root of the problem” (para 9).

In response to the law, pharmacists in Oklahoma also have concerns that the law will create more work for them, make their stores the target of burglaries or attract "undesirable" clientele. This fear wasn’t inforced nor dismissed by Bryan Potter, executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy (2004), when he was quoted saying, "Until you try something, you don't know whether it's going to work or not. We just hope that it works and that nobody gets hurt” (para 10) At the time at least 28 different states allow limited access to methamphetamine components which goes beyond cold medicine. Some other ingredients include some of the chemicals that are found in fertilizers, as well as other household products such as Drano. At least 10 of these states, which includes states like Missouri or California, have also placed limits on the amount of packages or grams of pseudoephedrine a person can purchase or have in their possession at a time. This preventative measure is of course meant to limit the amount of the methamphetamine ingredient so someone won’t be able to purchase a large amount to cook with. (Madigan, 2004)

As stated earlier, law enforcement can put pressure on how a drug business works, which results in them having to change how they operate their business. This increased presence of the police around drugs, specifically methamphetamines, works as another step being taken to fight the illicit substance. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in 2006 alone 2,597 federal arrests occurred that were methamphetamine related. While this down from around 6,000 that occurred the previous year, it is still a good number that shows that the battle against methamphetamine is working, at least to some degree. In 2008, numbers improved. An approximate 4,347 sentences came down on methamphetamine related charges, with around 97% of those charges being related to drug trafficking. All these numbers look nice on paper, but the real effect they have is on the street, where the criminals are no longer there to distribute the terrible drug. (“Office of National Drug Control Policy”, n.d.)

One specific part of law enforcement that fights against drugs such as methamphetamine is the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the DEA. The Drug Enforcement Administration is leading the way in battling illicit drugs such as methamphetamine. When created by the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, this agency was given the mission to proactively investigate and also prosecute the growers, manufactures, and distributors of illegal controlled substances. However, that is not the DEA’s only function, they are also proactive in extending awareness about drugs like methamphetamine and the devastating affects they cause to individuals and the ones they love. In addition to the pursuit of investigating and prosecuting those involved in drugs like methamphetamine, the DEA also is responsible for keeping up with a national drug intelligence program that collects and analyzes any intelligence received about narcotics. As well, the DEA serves as the U.S. liaison to the United Nations and Interpol, with responsibility for the seizure and forfeiture of assets taken from criminal drug organizations. Though the DEA was created in 1973, it was created from an evolution of other drug agencies, such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue and then the Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs. Despite the brief history, the DEA has established an impressive presence worldwide and the agency’s primary goal is to stop drug crimes. This is done by collaborating with all facets of law enforcement (whether they be local, state, or federal), and the DEA will continue this fight. (Roleff, 2003)

Besides standard police and agencies like the DEA fighting methamphetamine and other drugs, there has also been legislation passed to fight drugs, which in turn gave law enforcement the guidelines in which they do battle drugs. While there has been other acts and agencies who have battled illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, the most significant piece of legislation is the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. By the late 1960s, it had become very clear that previous laws and amendments that had been put in place over the years, was in need of major reform. These previous laws included the Food and Drugs Act which created the FDA and required labeling of products that contained drugs and the Harrison Act which taxed the distribution of opiate. It was these and other laws that created the groundwork for the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, but it was this new act that truly shaped the control of illicit drugs. At that time, the current system was a legal and bureaucratic disaster, based originally on tax law with later modifications that were based on interstate commerce and international treaty, but there was an increasing focus on federal law enforcement. Also, there was evidence that, despite any previous laws or penalties that were put in place, illegal drug use and abuse still took place. The new law in 1970 came in and completely threw out everything that went before it and started with a clean slate. This was based on the research of drug use at the time as well as a rational view that attempted to bring balance to public health concerns. This act gave increased funds to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (which later became the Department of Heath and Human Services) with the intent to have better research, treatment and prevention efforts against drug and drug abuse. However in the war against drugs like methamphetamine one of the most important things to come from this act was the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration that occurred in 1973. Since this act, there have been other laws and such that have come like the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, but it was the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 that really got things set in motion for the current battle against illicit drugs such as methamphetamines. (Ksir & Hart, 2008)

Methamphetamine is a dangerous and deadly substance. With a somewhat idealistic beginning, methamphetamine became a drug that despite producing short-term positive feelings for a user, the drug also at the same time can cause staggeringly devastating long term effects which can lead to harm done to the user and sometimes outside people as well. This has caused steps to be taken that battle the production and distribution of the drug. These steps have produced positive results but the war continues on with the drug. However, understanding the history, the use, the producting, and the steps that are being taken to fight methamphetamine can make one more aware of this battle that goes on around them.

References/Works Cited

Ksir, C., Ray, O. S., & Hart, C. L. (2008). Drug Products and Their Regulations. Drugs, society, and human behavior (12th ed., pp. 61-64). Boston : McGraw-Hill.

Gaines, L. K., & Kraska, P. B. (2003). Drugs in Context. Drugs, crime & justice: contemporary perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 66-68). Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.

Lyman, M. D., & Potter, G. W. (2007). The Illicit Drug Trade. Drugs in society: causes, concepts & control (5th ed., pp. 108-110). Newark, N.J.: LexisNexis.

Madigan, E. (2004, April 16). War on meth epidemic targets cold medicines. Stateline.org. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.stateline.org/live/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=136&languageId=1&contentId=15621

NIDA InfoFacts: Methamphetamine. (n.d.). National Institute of Drug Abuse. Retrieved October 17, 2010, from www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/methamphetamine.html

Office of National Drug Control Policy - Methamphetamine Facts & Figures. (n.d.). Office of National Drug Control Policy. Retrieved October 20, 2010, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/methamphetamine/methamphetamine

Roleff, T. L. (2003). Drug Enforcement Administration. Criminal justice (pp. 357-358). San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press.

Scheve, T. (n.d.). Discovery Health "History of Meth". Discovery Health "Health Guides". Retrieved November 7, 2010, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/drugs-alcohol/meth2.htm


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