Methamphetamine use has taken certain parts of the nation by storm since it first began to be used as a recreational drug in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite the fact of its illegalization in 1970, it was a popular drug for manufacturing and distribution in rural areas. Motorcycle gangs were able to cover large amounts of rural territory and distribute meth to many clients who couldn’t afford drugs like cocaine, which had a more urban and “classy” reputation.
Since then and despite the fact that meth has crossed many cultural boundaries, meth continues to have a reputation as a rural drug. This may also have something to do with the fact that heroin and cocaine supply lines don’t extend out into the countryside as well as meth does, since meth can be manufactured in nearly any abandoned barn or even just an empty field. Meth’s tendency toward rural distribution is part of the reason why Missouri has become a high-density meth location—but it’s not the entire story.
Part of the situation has to do with how the rest of the nation’s statistics have been trending. Methamphetamine use has actually been on the decline in the United States for a few years. In the early 2000s there were years with over 20,000 annual meth lab “incidents” being reported. Then, the DEA reported only 15,196 meth lab incidents in 2010, then 13,390 incidents in 2011 and 12,694 incidents in 2012.
However, Missouri’s numbers haven’t been decreasing at the same rate as the rest of the United States. In fact, since 2003, Missouri has only had one year in which it wasn’t the number one state for meth lab incidents. 2004 was the peak year, with 2,913 incidents recorded, but since then the numbers have remained high in relation to the rest of the country.
As one example of the situation “on the ground,” Mercy Hospital in St. Louis has a burn center in which fully 15% of patients have been injured in meth lab fires or explosions. In 2012, the state was pursuing 21,000 cases related to methamphetamine, and yet was only able to make 9,000 arrests. And despite these numbers, Missouri has been losing federal funding, with 2013 being its lowest point to that date.
ON A CROSSROADS
In the 1990s, Mexican drug dealers and manufacturers found that it was easier to produce drugs within the United States than to smuggle them over the border. They began to set up shop in California and to produce very large quantities of meth—up to 50 lbs at a time—for shipment and distribution throughout the United States. They used California as a base to distribute drugs across the entire country, which meant that Missouri became something of a hot spot for meth trafficking both to the area and through it on the way to the East coast and even Europe.
In fact, as of 2014, some statistics were pointing to the fact that Missouri may not be the #1 meth state anymore—at least not by such a clear margin. Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky have been among the front-runners in meth incidents recently, as they are also in this high-trafficking area. In 2014, Indiana and Tennessee outstripped Missouri in the number of meth busts.
Part of this victory may be attributed to the fact that Missouri (like a few other states in the US) has begun to restrict access to pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the meth-making process. Pseudoephedrine is found in Sudafed and other cold medications, and when access is restricted (as in Oregon and Mississippi) meth production rates tend to fall off drastically. Missouri’s restrictions are weak as yet (Sudafed can still be bought without prescription) but it’s a step in the right direction.