Both praised and disdained during its long history, methamphetamine
has been used to fight respiratory illnesses, boost the stamina of soldiers
during World War II and increase the production of factory workers.
Initially, the drug's potential for abuse and addiction was underestimated;
today, it's apparent.
Once considered a California peculiarity, meth users and meth labs are popping up worldwide.
In Japan, meth use has surpassed that of all other drugs. In Thailand, it has surpassed heroin
use. Even on the frontier between Thailand and Myanmar, Wa-hill tribesmen are making meth
tablets and becoming rich off addicts in the Far East.
Once the forte of small-time meth makers in the United States, it's now an increasingly
profitable product of powerful drug cartels. Their most active nests: Mexico and California.
To push supply and feed demand, Mexican drug traffickers import substances to make meth from
Europe, the Middle East and Far East, then move supplies, labor and the finished product across
the border into the Golden State, where the Cental Valley (along with Southern California)
dominates the nation’s meth trade, both in production and distribution.
Statistics compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration show that almost 7,000 meth and
meth-related labs were discovered last year in the U.S., including more than 2,000 in California,
an average of more than five per day. The state’s dominance was especially striking in the largest
category of labs, so-called “super labs” associated with the cartels. Of those, 97 percent were
The bulk of California’s meth is exported.
In the early 1990s, California meth saturated Mid-America, particularly Iowa. Increasingly, meth
production and use is spreading nationwide. There is a “significant increase” in meth availability
in western Michigan and increased meth smuggling by Mexican traffickers in western Kentucky, according
to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Meth is becoming the “drug of choice” in rural Oklahoma,
western Colorado and North Dakota, says the DEA. In Colorado, the majority of meth seized came either
from Mexico or “from large-scale laboratories in California” and meth cases in the Washington, D.C.,
area increasingly show evidence of ties to Mexican or California-based traffickers and producers.