As far as substance use problems go in North Texas, opioids have been getting the lion’s share of the attention. However, methamphetamines have made a comeback, with routine drug testing all over America showing a 487 percent increase in meth use from 2013 to 2019.
This was underlined by a record seizure made by the Dallas DEA in early January 2021. DEA agents seized over 1,930 pounds of crystal meth from a truck off I35 in Denton County. The haul was reportedly worth $45 million — worth a fifth of all the meth seizures for the entirety of 2020. That year, the DEA also arrested 2,100 people as part of Operation Crystal Shield, the latest in concerted efforts from stemming America’s growing meth epidemic.
This problem with crystal meth had been a long-time coming. The area’s geography and transportation infrastructure have made it an attractive distribution hub. Since at least the 2000s, North Texas has been a major international transshipment point for crystal meth and other illicit drugs. The DEA has also identified Dallas as one of eight major hubs for methamphetamine distribution in the US.
As a distribution hub, most of the meth that makes its way to Dallas is not consumed locally. Ultimately though, the demand for meth in other parts of North America has led to a rise in meth use in Dallas itself.
Most of the time, criminal gangs transport the drugs to other parts of the continent where they can command a higher price. However, Dallas is itself is also a major market, and many gangs choose to offload and distribute methamphetamines locally to reduce the risk of seizure.
So why has meth become more popular? There is no single definitive answer to that question. However, there are a few data points that may show how we got here.
1.) Meth has become cheaper and purer
Since the 1980s, the US federal government has been tracking the street price and potency of different illicit drugs. In 1986, crystal meth sold for an average of $575 per pure gram and was usually at 52 percent purity. By 2012, the street price had dropped to $194 per pure gram with an average of 91 percent purity.
Purer drugs and cheaper drugs raise the accessibility and addictive potential of the substance quite considerably, resulting in a bump in popularity. Cheaper meth means that it’s easier for people to get into the habit and the higher potency ensures that anyone who uses it is more likely to get hooked.
2.) Gangs are better at making and transporting meth
While a lot of crystal meth is still home-grown, as depicted in the TV series Breaking Bad, today, much of the meth in Dallas and the rest of the United States comes from large-scale operations in Mexico. These gangs have the economies of scale to produce large quantities of pure meth at a relatively low cost.
Not only are they better at making meth, but they are also better at transporting it too. These gangs have innovated ways to smuggle meth and other drugs across the border. These days, meth is rarely transported across the border in crystal form. Rather, it is now more often encountered as a harder-to-detect and easily disguised liquid. This liquid is smuggled across and the dissolved crystals are extracted at locations all over the country.
Even with seizures increasing and the pandemic putting the brakes on some of the traffic, the meth coming across the border in record numbers, as the Denton County seizure has shown.
3.) There is a historical cycle of stimulant epidemics following opioid epidemics
In past opioid epidemics, a second epidemic of stimulants such as cocaine and meth usually followed. This switch from one drug to another can often be tracked by the positive hits for different substances in standard drug tests. Opioids are still the biggest substance use issue in America today, but the growing meth crisis may indicate that it’s about to change.
It’s worth noting that drugs can go in and out of style and that many drug users tend to use multiple drugs. Stimulants like meth are popular in some opioid user circles as a “pick-me-up” to prevent the worst effects of a crash. Others like mixing up drugs simply because they enjoy it. Others may start using meth as a way to get off opioids.
4.) Drugs of all kinds are generally just more accessible
Thanks to technology, getting access to drugs is easier in general than it’s ever been. Today, more Americans than ever before know at least one drug dealer. And if that drug dealer can get you pot or ecstasy, chances are they can hook you up with opioids, cocaine, and meth as well. Given meth’s historically low prices and high purity today, the chances of someone getting hooked on meth are greater than ever.
Regardless of the reasons for meth’s resurgence in popularity, the problem we’re seeing today may only be the tip of the iceberg. While comparatively less deadly in terms of overdose risk compared to opioids, methamphetamines and other powerful stimulants have been linked to several adverse health effects.
It remains to be seen if meth will supplant opioids as it has during previous epidemics. These are extraordinary times and the numbers we’re seeing in terms of opioid and methamphetamines is unprecedented. For now, it seems that both problems may get worse before they get better.
If you or someone you know needs help with methamphetamine misuse, our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help. We can connect you with healthcare professionals that specialize in methamphetamine use disorders, right in your own neighborhood.