The sharp rise in opioid abuse and fatal overdoses has overshadowed another mounting drug problem: Methamphetamine use is rising across the United States.
Much of the meth sold in the U.S. today comes from Mexico, according to DEA officials.
“Usage of methamphetamine nationally is at an all-time high,” says Erik Smith, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Kansas City office.
“It is back with a vengeance.” he says. “And the reasons for that are twofold.” The drug’s now stronger, and cheaper, than it used to be.
No longer chiefly made by “cooks” in makeshift labs in the U.S., methamphetamine is now the domain of Mexican drug cartels that are mass-producing high-quality quantities of the drug and pushing it into markets where it was previously unknown.
But even in rural communities ravaged by decades of experience with the drug, meth is on the upswing thanks to its relatively low price, availability and a shortage of treatment options.
Southeast Missouri is often called “the Bootheel” because that part of the state resembles a heel-like protuberance into Arkansas.
Locally produced meth started taking hold in the Bootheel in the 1980s, in little towns such as Qulin, where it snared generations of residents like Dustin Siebert.
“I started using methamphetamine when I was 18, 19 years old,” says Siebert, rubbing his tattooed hands. “And, months later — some four or five months — I was helping other people manufacture it. Took over my life,” Siebert says, “like it did just about everybody else in this area.”
Siebert says he’s been off meth for four years, but he says many people in the town of 450 residents have never been able to fully shake it. Amber Windhorst, the school social worker in Qulin, agrees.
“A high number of our kids are affected by drug use in the home,” she says. “Or Mom and Dad have left because they’re out using.”
Windhorst says grandparents are raising many of those kids, but meth use now spans three generations in some families.