Meth once used to treat obesity, alcoholism

September 23, 2007 

Meth has a long and storied history — even Adolph Hitler used it.

First made by a Japanese chemist in the 1890s, meth was used during World War II by German troops to keep awake and alert. Hitler’s doctor administered a shot of meth a day to the Nazi leader.

In the 1950s, meth was legal in America and could be obtained by prescription. Doctors used it to treat obesity, alcoholism and narcolepsy.

In 1965, in response to growing abuse, Congress passed the Drug Abuse Control Act, the first step toward severely limiting meth’s sale.

Addicts reacted by cooking their own meth, often at home, in make-do surroundings. Meth was often a cocaine substitute, since it was as addictive but cheaper than the white powder.

In the 1970s, various motorcycle gangs began cooking and selling meth. These days, while meth is concentrated in rural communities, it is also a popular “club drug” in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Meth, sometimes called crank, is cheap and easy to make.

Addicts who want to make the drug can get recipes off the Internet. Recipes differ but depend on the chemical reduction of the decongestants ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

Other chemicals used as catalysts can explode or catch fire during the cooking process. Law enforcement agents often find labs because of fires and explosions. Gases generated also can be dangerous, especially to children, who can suffer lung and nerve damage.

The federal government and many states now restrict the sale of meth ingredients. While that has cut down on the number of U.S. labs, addicts continue to buy meth imported from Mexico.

But, with crackdowns expected at the Mexican border, the number of U.S. labs is likely to rise again, officials say.

— John Monk

• The Nazi and Red P methods

Local authorities say the “Nazi method” is by far the most popular way to make meth in the Midlands. It uses anhydrous ammonia (a liquified fertilizer) and lithium from batteries as catalysts.

The Nazi method requires no heat source and can be made by mixing the ingredients in buckets until the drug begins to crystallize.

A second method, known as the “Red P” method, does require heat and is gaining traction.

Red P is named after its main ingredient, red phosphorus. Red phosphorus itself isn’t dangerous. But when it reacts with water and oxygen, it forms colorless, odorless and poisonous phosphine gas.

Meth cooks often will buy hundreds of matchbooks for their striker plates, which contain red phosphorus.

Red P labs are rare in the Midlands, but not unheard of.

June 1, Lexington County deputies busted what Sheriff James Metts called the biggest Red P lab the department has seen, in a neighborhood in Gaston.

Matchbooks were everywhere.

— Adam Beam, John Monk

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