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Drug Abuse by Region: Midwest

Here it is, another installment of Drug Abuse by Region. In the Midwest, the drug of choice is methamphetamine. This probably comes as no surprise to many, what with pop culture references making the Midwest notorious for its industry of meth labs. But there is a history lesson here, steeped in agriculture, economics, and politics that accounts for such a prevalence of meth in this region of the United States.

The methamphetamine panic really began to build by the mid-2000s. But, the events leading up to this epidemic began to unfold well before that.

Perhaps because of how easy it is to make – you can make meth out of readily available industrial and pharmaceutical products, a twenty-first-century version of moonshine was born.

Drug Abuse by Region: Midwest

The “Heartland”

What allowed meth to capture the public imagination so fully was the way in which it attacked the beliefs that Americans had about their beloved heartland: a picturesque landscape with an ideal wholesomeness of decency and morality. Perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of meth is its clientele: the same predominantly white small-town residents who had witnessed from a safe distance, the ravages of crack cocaine on the more urban areas of the country and who had told themselves that they weren’t that kind of people.

Drug Abuse by Region: Midwest

Manufacturing Meth

A crumbled local agricultural economy turned out to be a windfall. Falling tax revenues had left local law enforcement underfunded, understaffed, and unable to stop the growing manufacture a selling of meth. Hard-up fertilizer suppliers and farmers were happy to cut deals on large volumes of anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer ingredient that is also used in meth processing. And unlike other drugs, meth didn’t require contraband raw materials from South America or Southeast Asia.

Its most ‘exotic’ ingredient at the time, ephedrine, was also used to make cold medication – which meant that efforts by the DEA to place restrictions on its importation were routinely thwarted by the pharmaceutical lobby and its congressional champions, who guaranteed that ephedrine would remain free of federal regulation. Not since Prohibition had an illegal drug been so easy to make inconspicuously by anyone with a high school-grade knowledge of chemistry.

Drug Abuse by Region: Midwest

Meth: A Lesson in History

Meth, also called crystal meth, was not a new drug. It had first been manufactured by a Japanese chemist nearly a century earlier. It had only recently fallen from favor as a legal prescription narcotic, and was and has been a go-to by long-haul truckers to enable them to pull off inhuman stints without sleep in order to deliver their goods across the country. It was even advertised in women’s magazines to housewives as an aid for increasing their energy and overall perkiness, as well as prescribed to American GIs, during World War II. As the legal market for meth had diminished, however, an increasing illegal trade had emerged, built on a small group of professional suppliers in Southern California and a network of motorcycle gangs that distributed the drug elsewhere.

But it was Lori Kaye Arnold, the wife of a biker gang member and sister of comedian Tom Arnold, whose own innovations in the late ’80s transformed meth into a rural Midwestern phenomenon. After first setting up Ottumwa, Iowa as the premier heartland distribution hub for Californian meth, Arnold decided to borrow a page from Monsanto and better integrate her supply chain, building her own production facilities, which were to become the first Midwestern meth lab in Iowa.

If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction or another addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. 










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