Meth Use in Chicago Is on the Rise
Many areas of the United States are being hit by a resurgence of methamphetamine abuse, especially the Chicago area of Illinois. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS), this potent stimulant drug ranks sixth in the Chicago metro area among seized illicit drugs reported to the database.
This upward trend has been happening since at least 2014, after decreases in 2005 and 2007.
Much of the U.S. experienced a decrease in meth production and abuse in the mid-2000s, partly due to shutting down domestic meth labs. But foreign production and illegal import of the drug appear to be on the rise, leading to a rapidly increasing number of seizures and more meth addiction.
What Is Meth, and Why Is It Dangerous?
Methamphetamine is a dangerous, addictive stimulant drug, famous primarily in the form of crystal meth.
While crystal meth is still popular, modern versions of illicit meth are white or off-white powders rather than the crystals created in domestic drug labs in previous decades. People abuse meth by:
- Snorting it.
- Smoking it.
- Swallowing pill forms of the drug.
- Mixing the powder into liquid and injecting the solution intravenously.
In Chicago, new reports of increasing meth seizures and rising abuse rates have found that fewer people smoke meth, and more people are injecting it intravenously. This may be associated with the co-occurring opioid abuse epidemic, in which heroin and fentanyl are injected or swallowed more than smoked. The change could also be associated with the different, powdered form of meth that is now frequently sold.
This stimulant substance forces a surge of dopamine in the brain, which can trigger the reward center and lead to compulsive behaviors to consume more of the drug when the original dose wears off. Even small amounts of meth can be harmful, causing short-term effects like:
- Extremely high levels of physical activity.
- Increased wakefulness and decreased need for sleep.
- Rapid breathing.
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat.
- Elevated blood pressure.
- High body temperature, which may lead to hyperthermia.
Long-term meth abuse can cause damage to the teeth, extreme weight loss, malnutrition, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, memory loss, problems maintaining healthy sleep patterns, paranoia, and violent behavior.
Meth abuse can also lead to overdose and death. In 2017, about 15 percent of all drug overdose deaths in the country involved methamphetamine drugs. About half of those were caused by mixing meth and an opioid drug, like heroin, together.
A Recent Reversal in Rates of Meth Abuse in Chicago
Illinois lawmakers stiffened criminal penalties for meth production in the midwestern state starting in the mid-2000s, when rural production was the main driver of meth abuse around the country.
This prompted meth producers to change their approach to “one-pot” meth production, in which a large soda bottle is used to manufacture a small amount of the drug. This is extremely dangerous. These types of unstable labs tended to produce toxic chemicals or explode. With more law enforcement crackdown, many of the domestic labs were shuttered.
Now, a good amount of the meth in the U.S. comes from other countries. Super labs produce large amounts of pure meth in other countries, primarily Mexico. Cartels have taken over sending meth into the United States, including all over Illinois. Chicago is one of the largest cities in the state, so it is often seen as a distribution point for drugs.
A dip in reports of meth seizures between 2011 and 2013 suggested that abuse of the stimulant was going away, but in 2014, meth reports went up: from 278 in 2013, to 367 in 2014. Then, in 2015, there were 620 reports of meth among seized items during arrests. In 2016, that rose to 761 reports. In 2017, there were an astonishing 1,320 reports of meth seized in drug busts in Chicago.
More Potent Meth From Super Labs
Officials in Chicago believe that Mexican drug cartels, who created super labs to illicitly manufacture high volumes of meth along with fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, are forcing these drugs into the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been tracking this behavior for several years due to the increase in fentanyl being sold as heroin, which is triggering rapid, deadly opioid overdoses all over the country.
Much of the meth created by these super labs is 100 percent pure. This makes it much more harmful than the domestically manufactured meth that ravaged much of the nation in the early 2000s.
A spokesperson for Cook County, which contains the Chicago metropolitan area, reported that 48 overdose deaths in 2018 alone involved meth.
Who Abuses Meth?
Meth may be abused by people who think they are purchasing MDMA, also called ecstasy or Molly. Meth is also used specifically among men who have sex with men and some Asian ethnic groups who live in and around Chicago.
Teenagers, especially high schoolers, in the large urban area of Chicago report abusing meth more than their peers in suburban areas or other Illinois cities.
Despite an uptick in meth in Chicago, abuse of the drug is still more common in rural areas of Illinois than in Chicago. Per the National Drug Intelligence Center, meth is the most serious drug threat in rural Illinois, and it’s the second most serious drug threat in Chicago, following crack cocaine.
Despite increasing abuse of meth, in 2017, only about 1 percent of all treatment admissions in Chicago and surrounding suburbs involved meth as the main drug of abuse. More commonly, meth was used in conjunction with other substances of abuse, particularly opioids.
Fewer people reporting for meth addiction treatment stated that they smoked the drug, compared to data from the early 2000s. Instead, injecting the stimulant has become a more popular method of use. Injection meth use comes with added risks, including the potential to contract blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis; abscesses; infections; endocarditis (inflammation of the heart’s lining); and scarring at injection sites.