Video and transcript by PBS Frontline. Read our special report on Crystal Meth Treatment.
Speed. Meth. Glass. Crystal. On the street, methamphetamine has many names. What started as a fad among West Coast motorcycle gangs in the 1970s has spread across the United States, and despite lawmakers’ calls for action, the drug is now more potent, and more destructive, than at any time in the past decade. In The Meth Epidemic, FRONTLINE, in association with The Oregonian, investigates the meth rampage in America: the appalling impact on individuals, families and communities, and the difficulty of controlling an essential ingredient in meth—ephedrine and pseudoephedrine—sold legally in over-the-counter cold remedies…
Meth’s destructive power comes from its impact on the user’s brain. “Dopamine is the brain’s primary pleasure chemical,” says UCLA professor and meth expert Dr. Richard Rawson. “If you take a hit on a pipe or an injection of methamphetamine, you get an increase from zero to about 1,250 units. … This produces an extreme peak of euphoria that people describe as something like they’ve never experienced.” Researchers have found that meth creates this high by destroying the very part of the brain that generates dopamine, which makes them unable to feel pleasure from anything except more meth. “It actually changes how the brain operates,” Rawson continues. “It’s a wonder anyone ever gets off meth.” According to the World Health Organization, meth abuse worldwide is worse than that of cocaine and heroin combined.
“The Meth Epidemic” tells the story of two potential solutions to the crisis and examines why neither was fully tried. In the mid-80s, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration first proposed controlling the retail sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in cold medicines by having customers register at the counter and limiting how much they could buy. Pharmaceutical companies, however, resisted the DEA’s plan. Allan Rexinger, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, felt the DEA was overreacting and unfairly punishing a legitimate business: “They have a different way of thinking. DEA agents carry guns; DEA agents are killed in the jungles of South America. But when you’re working in Congress, you don’t need to carry a gun. We felt like we were being treated just like a Colombian drug lord.” Meanwhile, Gene Haislip, a former deputy administrator at the DEA, says: “They live in the business community, where the name of the game is to make money and sell product. They’re highly skilled, very well organized and very well funded, and they can be quite formidable.” Faced with a choice, the White House and Congress ultimately exempted cold medication from the regulatory proposals.
And if you or a loved one is tangle in Crystal Meth use, please call our hotline. Help is one phone call away. 877-794-9934