Press "Enter" to skip to content

The formulation of meth has changed. It may be contributing to this country’s mental health crisis.

By Sage Van Wing (OPB)

Journalist and author Sam Quinones has written a lot about the drug trade. His newest book, “The Least of Us,” focuses on fentanyl and meth. In a new article in The Atlantic magazine, Quinones argues that the way meth is being made currently has changed the chemical structure of the drug and made it much more dangerous to users’ mental health. Quinones explains what he learned.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: We start today with the reporter Sam Quinones. In 2015, he published an award-winning book called “Dreamland.” It traced the origins and the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic in this country. Now he has a new book called, “The Least of Us.”  It comes out tomorrow. It focuses on the latest drug scourges, the synthetic opioid Fentanyl and a new highly dangerous psychosis-inducing formulation of meth. Quinones connects the widespread availability of this meth to homelessness and to serious mental health crises playing out daily on American streets. Part of the new book was adapted into an article for the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine. Sam Quinones, welcome back to Think Out Loud.

Sam Quinones: Thanks for having me again, David, good to talk with you.

Miller: So humans are at the heart of your story. This is, after all, about people’s lives being devastated by drugs, but the story hinges on chemistry. What do we need to understand as lay people about two different ways to make meth?

Quinones: I think the important thing is to understand that there’s a before and then there’s an after. With the way that Mexican traffickers were making meth before, using a chemical called ephedrine which you find in the Sudafed pills, the methamphetamine that they were producing is not good for you. It decayed you over a number of years and there were famous posters out of Multnomah County or mugshots of people this happened to, but it was a kind of a euphoric drug, a party drug, a social drug, making you want to spend a lot of time around people and so on. And then the way of making meth changed down in Mexico because it had to. The Mexican government made ephedrine illegal and the trafficking world gradually shifted to a new way of making meth using the precursor known as p2p, phenyl-2-propanone. And with that you began to see a whole new experience–very sinister, very lonely people isolating horribly in their own minds. It’s not a social drug anymore. It’s not a party drug anymore. On the contrary, what it seems to breed is a very sinister kind of schizophrenia, horrible paranoia, great amounts of hallucinations and with that of course comes homelessness. And I think, also, you can chart the rise of the tent encampments so common in the West, but also now all across the country in many areas. I just spoke with a guy in Boston where this is the case as well. That the meth is really contributing to the formation of these encampments. This is all connected to the idea, too, that the trafficking world down in Mexico now has access to two very large ports that give them access to world chemical markets–China, India, Chile, a variety of areas where they can get all the chemicals that they need to make this stuff year round, add to that

a whole number of new producers down in Mexico. And the supply is just staggering.

Miller: So let’s go piece by piece here because the supply, it seems, is directly related to the difference in these two ways of making methamphetamine.

Quinones: Correct.

Miller: Am I right that the older version with ephedrine was based on a natural substance, something that was grown and that was a kind of a natural limiter on how much meth you could make?

Quinones: Yes, but also it was that the Mexican trafficking world had a limitation on how much it could actually import.  It used to be legal for many years and that’s how the industry grew up. Just getting access to those amounts of ephedrine, they were able to make enough to cover significant parts of the Western United States. Never were they really able to take over the market east of the Mississippi River. And that was the whole other world that they never actually had access to, but now they do with this p2p meth because of the access to all the kinds of different chemicals that you can make p2p with.

Miller: Can you give us a sense for the scale of the industrial operations that we’re talking about? Because for the ephedrine-based meth there were basically on the West Coast, if I understand correctly, two ways people have, but one is home labs in the US and the other was Mexican drug makers who would make it there and bring it in. What’s the scale now for the production of the p2p meth?

Quinones: Yes, it just dwarfs anything we’ve ever seen. You’re right. For many years there was a whole kind of homemade way of making meth. You found this a lot in the Midwest, you found it in certain parts of the Western United States–making it in kind of an informal concoction, a little bit like moonshine almost. You can make it in a Mountain Dew bottle, but you were talking about grams or ounces at the very most that you were able to do. This p2p meth that is able to be made down in Mexico is like what happened with Main Street when Walmart came in. When Walmart came in, Main Street was just out competed and died off in so many towns. Well, the same is true of those homemade meth makers, those shake and bakers as they’re called, in many parts of the country.  They don’t really exist anymore. They’ve been out competed and really destroyed by the enormous amount of meth coming in from Mexico and the best way to show it is what’s happening to the price. The price has just collapsed. And this is a remarkable feat. It collapsed in LA, it collapsed on the East Coast. I’m in Nashville where it used to be that a pound of meth was $20,000. And now it’s $4,000. That kind of percentage drop in price is happening all over the country.  It is a remarkable achievement, if you want to call it that, in just pure supply of one drug…


Live Stream + Chat (

Live Stream + Chat (

Home | Caravan to Midnight (

We Need Your Help To Keep Caravan To Midnight Going,

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Breaking News: