Start at the Beginning
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are both pharmaceutical drugs used to treat certain medical conditions, and recreational drugs (colloquially known as speed). Methamphetamine is a particularly potent type. Amphetamines affect the central nervous system much like adrenaline. Amphetamines were used as a stimulant by both sides in WWII, before their addictive properties became known.
Tell Me More
The production, sale and possession of methamphetamine is restricted or illegal in many countries. Methamphetamine comes in various forms including powder, which can be snorted, and crystal which can be smoked, injected or swallowed. Its street names include ice, meth or crystal meth, tik (South Africa), P (New Zealand), ya ba (mixed with caffeine in Thailand) and shabu (Philippines and Malaysia). Despite its addictive and damaging potential, it appeals to users because it makes them feel alert, confident, energetic and euphoric.
Is it New?
Methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as crystal meth, was first synthesised in a Japanese pharmacology lab in 1919. It was, and still is, lawful to prescribe in countries such as the US and Australia for conditions such as narcolepsy and ADHD. But over the past decade its illegal use has generated ever-increasing public anxiety.
The Breaking Bad Factor
Millions of people with no direct methamphetamine contact know an awful lot about it thanks to TV’s Breaking Bad. The idea of a meth-chemist character came to series creator Vince Gilligan via a black joke between him and another under-employed writer about alternative ways to make a living. “It jarred something within me,” he said.
“… a five-year long public service announcement on the dangers of meth and the violence of meth trafficking.”
How the US Drug Enforcement Administration Educational Foundation described Breaking Bad while giving its creative team a Global Leadership Award
Why So Much Concern?
There’s no doubt chronic meth use can be disastrous for individuals, leading to physical and mental health problems including heart, teeth and skin damage, insomnia, hallucinations, paranoia and aggression, which impact terribly on those around them. But is it a broader problem?
Law enforcement agencies and politicians think so. Globally meth drug busts more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, partly due to targeted policing, but also to increased manufacture and trafficking. The drug’s use is certainly growing in much of Asia, and in Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described the country as being in the grip of an “epidemic”.
But worldwide only an estimated 0.7% of adults used any kind of amphetamine in 2011 (according to UN figures). In the US, meth use is now at 0.4%, having been declining for a decade. In Australia it is 2%, a figure unchanged since 2001. In many places medical admissions are, however, up perhaps due to increased purity. Drug and public health experts have called for calm, but they are going largely unheard.