Hide Your Children—Here Comes the Meth!

Addicted child

The recent rise in methamphetamine use in the U.S. illustrates why it’s vital to know your history. This is not the first time methamphetamine has marched across the country, leaving addiction and devastation in its wake. Parents would be very wise to review the catastrophic results that followed the last rise in meth distribution and use starting in the late 1980s.

Here’s how this curse descended upon America.

  • 1980: West Coast motorcycle gangs learn how to create methamphetamine from ephedrine, an ingredient in cold remedies.
  • Early 1980s: Mexican drug cartels get into the act by beginning to distribute precursor chemicals and finished methamphetamine to the West Coast. Home meth labs begin to be found up and down the West Coast as well.
  • 1988: The Drug Enforcement Administration gets involved in legislative controls that will help reduce meth production by restricting the sales of precursor chemicals that can be used to make meth. Because of a compromise with pharmaceutical companies, cold tablets themselves are not restricted.
  • Early 1990s: Small scale meth cooks begin using these exempted pills to make meth. Mexican cartels begin importing precursor chemicals in volume and the supply of meth on the illicit market skyrockets—followed by an increasing number of people going to rehab for meth on the West Coast.
  • Mid 1990s: More efforts are made to restrict access to precursor chemicals. But cold medication in blister packs are exempted. Piles of empty blister packs start being found when meth labs are busted.
  • 2004: Massive amounts of pseudoephedrine, the main precursor now used to make meth, are imported into Mexico. Meth being trafficked into the U.S. reaches new levels of purity. The first state (Oklahoma) restricts the sale of cold medication containing pseudoephedrine. More states follow over the next few years and the number of domestic meth labs falls dramatically.
  • 2005: Methamphetamine abuse costs the country approximately $23.4 billion in 2005—about the time that meth use peaks. The average age of a meth user is 19.
  • 2006: America has 1.4 million meth users. The United Nations World Drug Report calls meth the most abused hard drug on earth.
  • 2009: A new process for making meth becomes popular. It requires a much smaller amount of precursor chemicals. It’s called the “one-pot” method or “Shake and Bake.” The number of illicit labs being found to climbs again.
Methamphetamine use chart for U.S. through 2014.

You can see in this chart how meth use rose through 2005 and then began to decline. This chart is taken from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The Shift from Methamphetamine to Opioids

Then what happened? The whole drug abuse scene in America began to shift. Prescriptions for painkillers had been increasing for the last decade and this was following by a growing number of people addicted to their pills. In 2010, the formulation for one of the most popular painkillers for abusers was changed so it was not easy to abuse anymore. In other words, it could not be crushed so it could be snorted or dissolved for injection. Many people who were addicted began to migrate to heroin. Concerns about methamphetamine use seemed to fall by the wayside.

Meth use remained low for several years and then in 2015, reports began to surface about more cases of methamphetamine use, addiction and seizures.

Montana Fights Meth Use Successfully—But Now it’s Back

Ad from Montana anti-methamphetamine campaign.

In Montana where meth-related destruction was particularly severe, the state launched a unique and effective public service campaign to convince their residents to avoid this drug. Those who got hooked on meth often stated that all it took was one use for them to be irrevocably on the road to addiction. The campaign slogan was “Not Even Once.” A series of hard-hitting public service announcements reduced use of meth in Montana and other states where the PSAs were aired, showing that it is possible to make a change in people’s drug habits.

Then in 2015, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle carried reports from the Montana Highway Patrol about the striking increase in meth seizures in their state. It was noted that 95% of the meth seized came from Mexico, not small domestic labs.

The same year, the Washington Post noted that as Mexican drug cartels lost business because of marijuana legalization for medical or recreational use in the U.S., they shifted their production emphasis to methamphetamine and heroin. Greater quantity would, of course, reduce costs once the drugs arrived in the U.S.

The website OklahomaWatch.org reported that methamphetamine was the biggest factor in drug overdose deaths in 2016. The drug was involved in the deaths of 328 Oklahomans, up from 271 the prior year. The same trend was noticed in New Mexico.

By 2017, workplace drug tests confirmed the rise in methamphetamine use. The workplace drug test company Quest Diagnostics noted that “between 2012 and 2016, methamphetamine positivity climbed 64 percent in the general U.S. workforce and 14 percent among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.”

Not Another Epidemic!

The last thing that American families, employees, law enforcement and healthcare workers need is another complex, hard-to-solve wave of drug use and addiction. Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive substances in the world. Keeping young people (in particular!) from ever starting to use this drug is vital.

Father and son working on a project together.

The solution is not to simply tell our children that they should avoid one drug in particular. The right approach is to educate youth that any drug use could result in addiction and many of them can kill outright. At the same time, it’s essential to help children develop their own goals and interests and encourage them to participate at home, in school and in their communities.

For help educating your children on the dangers of some of the most commonly-used drugs o methamphetamine, check out the links below.

General drug abuse information.

Health risks of drug abuse.

Signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use.

FAQ on methamphetamine.

Treatment for methamphetamine addiction.

No one of any age deserves to be addicted. But our children, in particular, are precious to us. They are our futures. Working together in homes, schools, communities and legislative chambers, we can prevent this increase in methamphetamine use from stealing our youth once again.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.