Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2005
Source: Los Angeles City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Southland Publishing
Note: Also prints Los Angeles Valley Beat, often with similar content, and 
the same contact information.
Author: Mick Farren
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Homemade Crystal Meth Makes Another Big Comeback, And The Hapless War On 
Drugs Fumbles Once Again

"I don't have a bedtime, I don't have to come, Since I became an 
amphetamine bum" --The Fugs

Like some demented e-mail from Julia Child, one website recipe calls for 
200 pseudoephedrine pills (Actifed, Sudafed, Suphedrine, etc.), one and a 
half cups of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, three cans of lighter fluid, 
three AA Energizer lithium batteries, one bottle of Red Devil lye, water, 
iodized salt, and one bottle of Liquid Fire drain opener.

Another substitutes sulphuric acid and aluminum foil for the lye and drain 
opener. Other cookers recommend crushed aluminum beer cans. All the 
components in these hellish brews are the basic ingredients in what's known 
as the "Nazi method" of cooking methamphetamine. If done right, the process 
can yield between one and four ounces of crystal meth, but the process, 
although simple, is seemingly fraught with pitfalls.

One of the multitude of online instructors issues stern warnings -- "wear a 
mask and gloves if you can" "do it someplace remote" "be careful of the 
sulphuric acid because that shit will eat you to the bone" and "make sure 
there's not moisture in or around the bucket, or KA-FUCKING-BOOM!"

L.A. CityBeat doesn't commission felonies, so I won't elaborate on the 
exact details of the Nazi method of speed production, but suffice to say -- 
aside from the possibility of painful acid burns, a truly foul smell, and 
devastating explosions -- it involves buckets, rubber tubing, kitty litter, 
and a lot of stuff that can be found under the kitchen sink. When the 
hardest part of the process is avoiding blowing oneself up, the levels of 
quality control have to be both dubious and questionable. As one who was a 
moderate-to-excessive speedfreak from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s -- 
the Who's "My Generation" to the Clash's "White Riot," if you want the 
cultural markers -- and has the scars to prove it, I'm both appalled at the 
prospect of ingesting anything that employs drain cleaner in its 
preparation, and relieved I did my time in the amphetamine trenches when 
the drug was manufactured by major pharmaceutical corporations, or at least 
outlaw chemists who had more than just basic culinary skills.

Big Trouble at the Kwik-E-Mart

In the last few years, DIY drug production has become so popular and 
widespread that it is now surrounded by something close to official hysteria.

All over the country, politicians and law enforcement are working on ways 
to thwart the booming cottage industry.

While cops hunt for amateur meth labs in the hinterlands, lawmakers address 
the supply side and seek to restrict the availability of pseudoephedrine 
cold remedies like Sudafed, Actifed, and NyQuil. Locally, Riverside County 
is leading the crusade against crank, and consumers buying cold cures are 
required to give store clerks their names, addresses, telephone numbers, 
and driver's license numbers.

Los Angeles County is currently biding its time. Speed has never been an 
eminently big-city problem, and authorities are waiting to see how things 
pan out in Riverside. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, L.A. County's public health 
director, told the Los Angeles Times that he was "intrigued" by Riverside 
County's idea: "It's innovative. But I don't think we know at this point 
what's going to be effective."

The national response to what's been dubbed "the meth epidemic" has been a 
patchwork action, state by state -- or even, as in California, county by 

Some areas have ignored the problem, while others have become frenzied, 
like Indiana -- where state police busted 1,500 meth labs last year -- or 
Watauga County, North Carolina -- where District Attorney Jerry Wilson is 
using antiterrorism laws to prosecute meth-lab cases.

Frenzied is hardly the word, though, for the Northern District of Georgia; 
there, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias staged Operation Meth Merchant, a 
bizarre sting in which ex-cons and speedfreaks -- usually as part of a plea 
deal -- were sent out to rural Georgia kwik-E-marts to buy Sudafed and make 
known their intention to cook up a batch of meth. Operation Meth Merchant 
netted 49 convenience-store clerks and owners, who were charged with 
selling materials used to make methamphetamine, with each facing up to 20 
years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Federal prosecutors claimed that hidden cameras and microphones had caught 
workers acknowledging that the purchases were for cooking meth. Nahmias 
thundered triumphantly to the media, "We really wanted to send the message 
that if you get into that line of business, selling products that you know 
are going to be used to make meth, you're going to go to prison."

As the cases came to court, the truth quickly emerged that all but five of 
the accused were Indian immigrants (32 were named Patel, which made the 
rednecks very paranoid but only indicated they came from the Gujarat area), 
and their command of English was purely transactional, less than that of 
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of The Simpsons fame. As defense lawyer Steve Sadow 
told The New York Times, "Their business is: I ring it up, you leave, I've 
done my job." Hajira Ahmed, whose husband is in jail, charged with selling 
cold medicine and antifreeze at their store on a back road near the 
Tennessee border, voiced the general confusion: "This is the first time I 
heard this -- I don't know how to pronounce -- this meta-meta something."

In an attempt to standardize the law on a federal level, and maybe prevent 
more ludicrous grandstanding like Operation Meth Merchant, Senators Dianne 
Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) have sponsored a bill requiring 
stores to sell Sudafed, NyQuil, and other medicines containing 
pseudoephedrine only from behind the pharmacy counter.

Consumers would have to show a photo ID, sign a log, and be limited to 250 
30-milligram pills in a 30-day period.

Computer tracking would prevent visits to multiple stores. Meanwhile, 
Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of Sudafed, will be introducing Sudafed PE 
next January. Made with phenylephrine, Sudafed PE cannot be cooked down 
into meth.

Retail pharmacists are, however, dubious about the legal stampede to 
regulate pseudoephedrine. A pharmacist at a Longs Drugs in Riverside 
complained to the L.A. Times, "Imagine you're in line and you're sick and 
getting antibiotics and you have to wait behind three people who have to 
fill out a stupid log."

But Why Do They Call It the 'Nazi Method'?

Be under no illusion.

Speedfreaks lie. I've done it myself. All too often, they make up their 
extended motormouth monologues as they go along.

Down the years, speedfreaks have always favored the legend that the Nazis 
invented methedrine, but speed actually has a history that extends for more 
than a century, totally predating the Nazis. In fact, basic amphetamine was 
first synthesized as early as 1887, and used as a bronchiodialator for 
asthmatics, until popularized by the pharmaceutical giant Smith Kline & 
French as Benzedrine in 1932. The more potent methamphetamine was developed 
in Japan in 1919, and initially marketed as a diet aid in the U.S. under 
the brand name Desoxyn. But this is not to say that there was no Nazi 
connection; it could well be claimed that Adolf Hitler was the greatest 
speedfreak of all time, rivaled only by John F. Kennedy and Johnny Cash.

Hitler, a major hypochondriac, had his weird court physician, Dr. Theodor 
Morell, shoot him up daily with curious cocktails of medication that 
included not only the ever-popular methamphetamine, but cocaine, 
testosterone, corticosteroids, strychnine, atropine, and numerous vitamins.

As one speedfreak remarked during the research for this story, "No wonder 
he made so many mistakes." And where the Leader led, the followers followed.

Working on the principle of better-blitzkriegs-through-chemistry, the Nazis 
supplied their troops with almost unlimited quantities of Pervitin, a 
methamphetamine drug developed by the Temmler pharmaceutical company.

Surviving German records indicate that, during the short period between 
April and July 1940, more than 35 million 3mm tablets of Pervitin were 
shipped to the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, and the SS. In 1942, a German 
doctor reported from the eastern front that 500 of his men had been 
surrounded by the Red Army. The temperature was below zero, and the snow 
waist-deep. "More and more soldiers were so exhausted they lay down in the 
snow," he wrote.

Then Pervitin was issued, and the doctor observed: "The men began 
spontaneously reporting that they felt better.

Their spirits improved, and they became more alert."

In all fairness, legends abound of Benzedrine and Desoxyn circulating among 
American and British troops, especially bomber crews, in World War II, but 
the Allies were a tad more covert than Hitler's boys. Covert, however, was 
abandoned in the Cold War peace that followed when, according to dense, 
sub-level conspiracy theorizing, the pharmaceutical companies and sections 
of the Eisenhower administration (in between signing treaties with the 
aliens) entertained a Stepford-utopian anthill-dream of a society both 
fueled and controlled by amphetamines. Production-line workers would work, 
typists would type, homemakers would cook, dust, and vacuum -- all tweaking 
out of their heads until put to rest by bring-'em-down doses of 
barbiturates in time to watch Leave It to Beaver. Speed was packaged as 
everything from an antidepressant to a diet aid, and all might have gone 
according to plan, had not so many Stepford speed-wives done the Lucy 
Jordan, climbing on the roof when the voices grew too loud.

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Speed was actually off the social-control drawing board, and filed under 
"highly addictive/bad idea," by the time of its mighty swan song with JFK, 
when it may well have become -- taking into account the drug's capacity to 
facilitate grandiose fantasies -- the psycho-chemical stimulant that took 
humanity to both the moon and the brink of nuclear war. With a chronically 
damaged spine and possibly Addison's disease, Jack Kennedy constantly 
searched for more better painkillers, and he figured he had found what he 
wanted when he ran into Dr. Max Jacobson, the original 1960s Dr. Feelgood, 
who, at the time, was servicing the New York jet set -- from Tennessee 
Williams to Bob Fosse -- with shots of methedrine and B12.

Dr. Max began injecting Kennedy, almost daily, with speedballs of vitamins, 
animal placentas, and methedrine. Singer Eddie Fisher, who was also a 
client/patient of Dr. Max, recalled in his biography, Eddie: My Life, My 
Loves: "Looking back on it, it's amazing how we all just accepted the fact 
that the president was taking Dr. Feelgood with him to a meeting that would 
affect the entire world.

The fate of the free world rested on Max's injections. I can still see Max 
taking a little from this bottle, a little from that one, and pull down 
your pants, Mr. President."

With JFK gone, though, speed entered a new phase of its existence. 
Pharmaceutical amphetamines were gradually being made harder to obtain 
legally, and an underground market was flourishing among bikers, truckers, 
petty criminals, artists, drag queens, and musicians.

The pre-fame Elvis Presley had stolen his mother's diet pills, but, by 
1965, Johnny Cash found himself busted at the El Paso airport with 668 
Dexedrine and 475 Equanil -- just his walking-around stash -- and, by his 
own account, was firmly in the grip of fear and loathing: "I'd talk to the 
demons and they'd talk back to me." While the Rolling Stones sang "Mother's 
Little Helper," English mods dealt the "little yellow pills" on a thriving 
black market, and bands like the Who and the Move made themselves 
embodiments of pillhead triumph over hunger, sleep, orgasm, and reality. 
(For a musical analog of Dexedrine horrors, one need look no further than 
the Move's 1966 "Night of Fear," with its borrowed Tchaikovsky riff.) As 
the pharmaceutical industry backed out of the amphetamine business (except 
in Vietnam, where it supplied more than 225 million doses to U.S. troops 
during the course of the war), the underground/underworld moved in to fill 
the demand, and did it with the help of one of the most bizarre connections 
in all the annals of recreational drugs.

Finger Lickin' Good

Through the 1950s, the western world began eating more chicken than any 
period man had ever seen. Hens no longer strolled the barnyard; poultry was 
raised to be finger-lickin' good in vast aircraft hangers, with millions of 
birds racked like some avian matrix. Breathing problems were endemic in 
these factory farms, and feed was heavily laced with bronchiodialators, 
including ephedrine, the precursor drug of today's pseudoephedrine. I 
remember a former biker describing just how easy things were back in the 
early days of outlaw manufacture. "If you couldn't steal a 50-pound drum of 
chicken ephedrine, you could buy it in an agriculture supply store," he 
said. "The cops didn't give a fuck about agri-chemicals or even ephedrine 
back then. You could also pick up ammonium nitrate, and maybe a shotgun, at 
the same place.

Real one-stop shopping."

It was also during this period that speedfreaks started to acquire a very 
bad reputation as those who didn't eat or sleep, could fuck for hours or 
not at all, talked incessantly, concocted elaborate conspiracy theories, 
made weird notes and drawings, exhibited multiple obsessive-compulsive 
symptoms, and increasingly verged on the psychotic.

LSD may have ushered in the 1967 Summer of Love, but speed took it out. 
Warhol transvestite superstar Holly Woodlawn recalls the time in her 
autobiography, A Low Life in High Heels: "Methedrine, melba toast, and a 
strong cup of coffee were always the eye opener, and got me ready for the 
rigorous task of dressing for the night ahead. There were always occasions 
when [Jackie] Curtis had shot too much speed and came out looking like a 
Picasso with one eye on her cheek and the other on her forehead." My own 
speedfreak breakfasts were more like a pint of Guinness (the only thing my 
stomach would endure), as, unshaven, Manson-eyed, and three days in the 
same clothes, I wandered gray dawns with Lemmy (who would ultimately found 
Motorhead) in search of friends still awake who would listen to our plans 
for fame and world domination by the following Tuesday. Our worst rambling 
scenario was that we would be trapped in the squares' rush hour, and a 
world that rapidly transformed itself into an insane Wally Wood/Mad 
magazine crowd scene, and I would have to drag myself home, swallow Valium, 
talk to the cat, and then sleep for 14 hours.

But (in unconscious parody of my subject) I digress.

The sale of pharmaceutical amphetamines peaked in the late 1960s at around 
10 billion tablets worldwide, and then rapidly declined, helped in no small 
part by the Controlled Substances Act, which all but eliminated legal use 
and turned the entire ballgame over to the outlaws. Biker groups, notably 
the Hells Angels and the Gypsy Jokers, and white supremacists like the 
Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Low Riders took control of the meth trade.

The word "crank" came into common use, and speed took on the trailer-park, 
tattooed-white-trash image that it still enjoys today -- the "all-American 
high," as HBO dubbed it while promoting a heartland speed documentary 
titled (with originality) Crank.

But the blue-collar pop image of speed for-the-people, by-the-people -- 
promoted by movies like Spun and The Salton Sea -- may already be history.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the DEA, armed with RICO predicates and 
racketeering statutes, mounted a series of takedown campaigns against the 
bikers and neo-Nazis, disrupting what little organization they had and 
leaving the business wide open to Mexican mafiosi like the brothers Jesus 
and Luis Amezcua, who were able to make the double play of establishing a 
reliable supply of good-quality ephedrine and operating a standardized and 
highly efficient clandestine lab system, based right here in Southern 

Superlabs and Meth Orphans

According to court records, in the mid-1990s, the Amezcua brothers imported 
an estimated 170 metric tons of ephedrine -- made in India, China, Germany, 
and the Czech Republic -- in a single 18-month period, and processed it in 
their string of clandestine "superlabs" that were, with commercial-grade 
hardware, able to turn out 100,000 or even a million doses of good crystal 
meth in a two-day production run. The Amezcuas, and those like them, raised 
meth's purity.

They fueled the rave scene, the '90s tweakers twitching on Santa Monica 
Boulevard, and the legendary White Parties that culminated in the famous 
Easter weekend in Palm Springs, attended by 7,000 gay men, which one wag 
described as "cesspools of reckless drug users having lots of risky sexual 
behaviors." Their biggest achievement, though, was the marketing of ice, 
the smokable methedrine. Initially, ice was promoted as a major chemical 
breakthrough, achieved a certain extreme chic, and was priced accordingly. 
My culinary expert in cyberspace, unfortunately, claims that this is not 
even close to the truth.

Ice was nothing special: "It all depends on how you handle the crystal.

After [the cooking process is] done, it will be one big chunk of rock. You 
can either crush it up into a powder form and sell it as crank -- which 
seems to go farther -- or you can break it off in small chunks and sell it 
as ice -- goes shorter but people LOVE ice. It's as simple as that."

An impartial observer might ask: If these superlabs still exist today -- 
and every indication is that they do, in spades -- why is so much time, 
energy, and media attention being devoted to stopping small-time tweakers 
who, on average, cook up $250 to $500 worth of meth to sell -- with "two 
weeks' worth left over for personal use"? The unhappy answer is that this 
is the War on Drugs, where everything is ass-backward. The penny-ante 
cookers are a nuisance, but they make for easy results and lurid sound bites.

A cooker blows himself up in some rural slum. It gets on TV. Even if the 
lab doesn't explode, the smell tips off the neighbors, and the cops come 
a-raiding in hazmat suits.

And they get on TV.

Indeed, a fast web search quickly reveals that meth is a boon to 
copy-hungry small-town newspapers and TV stations, who gleefully repeat 
horror stories of "addicts so high on meth that even a Taser won't stop 
them," describe how "meth addicts believe that everyone is out to get them, 
even innocent strangers or inanimate objects," and roll out ponderous 
editorial phrases like "the crisis of the new millennium." Even network 
news is not exempt.

On July 20, CBS ran a story on the "new generation of helpless victims," 
the "meth orphans" -- children who are taken from their parents after raids 
on down-home meth labs, and are "stretching an already strained child 
welfare system to its limit." On August 9, NBC shlepped out Drug Czar John 
Walters to underline the alarm over "meth orphans" and reinforce this new, 
what-about-the-children? spin in the propaganda war on speed.

Unfortunately, the media hysteria over DIY meth-cookers distorts the 
figures and the real picture.

Sure, the mom-and-pop labs constitute a majority of those engaged in 
methedrine production, but they are in no way making most of the meth. The 
superlabs account for the bulk of the product -- some estimates run as high 
as 90 percent of all the meth manufactured in the U.S. -- but they 
represent only 4 percent of the total labs. The vast majority of meth labs 
in the U.S. -- 8,000 of the 8,300 seized in 2001 -- are home-user 
operations cooking no more than 280 hits at a time. Sudafed can be 
outlawed, and hundreds of small trailer-park labs shut down live on the 
evening news, but it is only an illusion of something being done. Even if 
John Walters, Jerry Wilson, David Nahmias, and all the other drug warriors 
could achieve the impossible and terminate the entire homemade meth 
industry, the superlabs of the Mexican mob and other organized 
entrepreneurs will still be grinding the crack and the ice, and, with the 
gadfly competition eliminated, even be able to maximize their profits in a 
monopoly market.

Meanwhile, speed will go on being consumed and abused, just as it ever was.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom