Where Does crystal meth Come From?
Currently, most methamphetamine in the United States is produced by transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico.44 This methamphetamine is highly pure, potent, and low in price. The drug can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications.
To curb production of methamphetamine, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act in 2005, which requires that pharmacies and other retail stores keep logs of purchases of products containing pseudoephedrine and limits the amount of those products an individual can purchase per day. Restrictions on the chemicals used to make methamphetamine in the United States have dramatically reduced domestic production of the drug. In 2010, there were 15,256 domestic methamphetamine laboratory incidents—a figure that has fallen over 80 percent to 3,036 in 2017.44 Data on drug seizures indicate that most domestic production of methamphetamine is now conducted in small laboratories that make two ounces or less of the drug using common household items.44
Mexico has also tightened its restrictions on pseudoephedrine and other methamphetamine precursor chemicals. But manufacturers adapt to these restrictions via small- or large-scale “smurfing” operations: obtaining pseudoephedrine from multiple sources, below the legal thresholds, using multiple false identifications. Manufacturers in Mexico are also increasingly using a different production process (called P2P which stands for pseudoephedrine’s precursor chemical, phenyl-2-propanone) to make methamphetamine that does not require pseudoephedrine.
When methamphetamine is smuggled into the United States in powder or liquid form, domestic conversion laboratories transform it into crystal methamphetamine. These laboratories do not require a significant amount of equipment, so they can be small in size and thus easily concealed, which presents challenges to law enforcement agencies.44 Methamphetamine pressed into a pill form intended to resemble ecstasy has also recently emerged, potentially in an effort to make methamphetamine more appealing to people who haven’t tried it before.44 As with other illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine, methamphetamine is also sometimes laced with fentanyl.44
Methamphetamine production is also an environmental concern; it involves many easily obtained chemicals that are hazardous, such as acetone, anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), ether, red phosphorus, and lithium. Toxicity from these chemicals can remain in the environment around a methamphetamine production lab long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of damaging effects to health. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided guidance on cleanup and remediation of methamphetamine labs.
Methamphetamine is not a new drug, although it has become more powerful in recent years as techniques for its manufacture have evolved.
Amphetamine was first made in 1887 in Germany and methamphetamine, more potent and easy to make, was developed in Japan in 1919. The crystalline powder was soluble in water, making it a perfect candidate for injection.
Methamphetamine went into wide use during World War II, when both sides used it to keep troops awake. High doses were given to Japanese Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. And after the war, methamphetamine abuse by injection reached epidemic proportions when supplies stored for military use became available to the Japanese public.
In the 1950s, methamphetamine was prescribed as a diet aid and to fight depression. Easily available, it was used as a nonmedical stimulant by college students, truck drivers and athletes and abuse of the drug spread.
This pattern changed markedly in the 1960s with the increased availability of injectable methamphetamine, worsening the abuse.
Then, in 1970, the US government made it illegal for most uses. After that, American motorcycle gangs controlled most of the production and distribution of the drug. Most users at the time lived in rural communities and could not afford the more expensive cocaine.
In the 1990s, Mexican drug trafficking organizations set up large laboratories in California. While these massive labs are able to generate fifty pounds of the substance in a single weekend, smaller private labs have sprung up in kitchens and apartments, earning the drug one of its names, “stove top.” From there it spread across the United States and into Europe, through the Czech Republic. Today, most of the drug available in Asia is produced in Thailand, Myanmar and China.