Crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been largely forgotten amid national concern over opioids. A dozen years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance, the New York Times reports. In Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the U.S. border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said Portland prosecutor J.R. Ujifusa. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”
The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. Still, there is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. Drugs go through cycles — in the 1980s and early ’90s, the use of crack cocaine surged. In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs. Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2005 Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which put pseudoephedrine behind the counter, limited sales to 7.5 grams per customer in a 30-day period and required pharmacies to track sales. Although some meth makers tried “smurfing,” sending emissaries to several stores to make purchases, meth cases plummeted. Later, when the ingredients became difficult to obtain in the U.S., Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops.