Journalist Quinones’ book links new methamphetamine to the growth of tent camps in cities

It’s often referred to as the “fourth wave” of the country’s drug crisis: first painkillers, then heroin, then fentanyl, and now stimulants like methamphetamine.

While there are no exact numbers, Massachusetts health care providers and law enforcement say methamphetamine use is on the rise here. The state legislature created a commission to further research the drug and possible treatments. It is holding its first meeting next month.

In his new book, journalist and author Sam Quinones says methamphetamine use has become more complicated over the past decade, largely because of the way it’s made and what the drug does to the brain.

In the book “The Least of Us: True Tales of America in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth,” Quiniones says that this particular methamphetamine is fueling the growth of homeless tent camps across the country, like the one in Boston on Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass. Boulevard.

He spoke with WBUR Morning edition on his report. Below are the interview highlights, edited slightly for clarity.

Interview highlights

Could you explain what you have discovered in your reporting about methamphetamine on the streets now and how that has changed?

Methamphetamine for many years in Mexico has been industrialized by the world of trafficking. They made it in large amounts of methamphetamine with a chemical known as ephedrine. It’s a decongestant found on Sudafed pills and that sort of thing.

Then the Mexican government decided to effectively ban ephedrine, which meant the trafficking world had to change the way methamphetamine was manufactured. There is another method. It’s much messier. It takes a lot more work and takes a lot more chemicals, and it stinks. However, it has one advantage that the ephedrine method does not have, that you can make it with a variety of combinations of different and very common industrial chemicals. This allowed them to start making methamphetamine in quantities that the ephedrine method never did. It’s just mind-blowing.

Surprising amounts of methamphetamine are now mined in Mexico – far more than with ephedrine before. Methamphetamine never really came out of the western United States in sustained amounts. But really since about 2012 or 2013 he’s paraded across the country.

This methamphetamine can be made with all kinds of different and commonly available chemicals, and they have access to two shipping ports in Mexico through which they obtain these chemicals. So they can do it in these amazing amounts and drop the price – which is down by around 80%.

In the book, you talk about a retired Albuquerque Police Narcotics Supervisor who trains police departments at small meth labs. He told you that methamphetamine really didn’t reach New England until 2018 or 2019. What do you think this means in terms of methamphetamine prevalence in Massachusetts?

An educated guess would be that it will grow, because once the markets are discovered they are rarely overlooked, especially if you have the supply. I think in New England they find a virgin market, because you never really had a lot of meth there until the last two or three years.

You write about meeting a man named Eric and what he told you about what this type of meth did to his mental state and how he went into mental decline, really. What did you learn from him and others about the mental effects of drugs?

I was very lucky to meet Eric. He was the first to explain to me what exactly is happening mentally to users as a result of using this new math from Mexico. He described a very serious paranoia; that suddenly he was sure his girlfriend had a man in the house, and he started stabbing the walls and the mattress fiercely looking for that man. Finally, there were hallucinations.

It is a brain breakdown that is rapid, and it never really goes away even after stopping use. It took him a long time, and he’s still wondering if he’s really back to normal.

According to my reports … it’s happening all over the country. You see these symptoms appearing in Albuquerque, rural Indiana, and West Virginia. In places, in fact, where they had never been homeless before. And now they are homeless. They have people roaming the streets completely out of balance. You have the tent camps popping up. Tents are perfect accommodations for people who suffer from this kind of paranoia and methamphetamine-induced hallucinations as the whole world seems a threat and now on your tail. Granted, you can’t live in an apartment or a house, and you really can’t live in a homeless shelter, because it’s very scary there. The tent is like this isolation pod.

We’ve seen a lot of these tent camps, not just in Los Angeles. Of course you have them in the “Mass”. and the Cass area in Boston. None of this happened with the methamphetamine that Mexicans made a decade ago. There was not this rapid onset of schizophrenia, rapid onset of hallucinations.

Is there any research that could support this or examine the effects of this new methamphetamine as opposed to ephedrine methamphetamine?

There is no scientific research on this. Nothing. What I’m giving you are basic street stories, leather shoe stories, talking to a lot of people across the country who keep telling me the same story over and over. And since posting this, I’ve heard from many other people – many healthcare professionals who work in emergency rooms or mental health clinics. And they can’t really tell if the person in front of them is mentally ill or has that methamphetamine-induced psychosis. Hopefully my reporting, which shatters this story, maybe causes scientists to say, “Hey, let’s take a look at this. “

You mentioned the “Mass”. and the Cass area in Boston and the tent camps. I have spoken with some providers about their views on the prevalence of methamphetamine use among those living in this camp. They estimate that about 20% of people in the camp say methamphetamine is their drug of choice. There aren’t many hard numbers in Massachusetts, but there are reports that acute psychosis is a problem. Why do you think more people are using this drug?

I would say supply and price are two major reasons people use it. And many people on or near the streets are now trying to avoid fentanyl. Methamphetamine will not kill you like fentanyl will. It becomes a drug that you use to withdraw from being homeless.

I was speaking with a psychiatrist at an emergency room in Columbus, and she said most of these people are homeless from methamphetamine, but meth also takes them far enough away from reality. So they don’t know they are homeless. It takes them to another world. It really damages the memory too, so they can’t remember what happened.

We are also in the age of polypharmacy. But I would say that methamphetamine robs people of any serious possibility of seeking treatment, and there is no medical treatment for methamphetamine use. You just have to get away from drugs.

It really is a question of supply. It is simply what benefits the traffickers, what helps them, what brings them more profit, what reduces their risk. That’s the reason we see this stuff. So this is something that I think will be with us for a while, because it really benefits the traffickers.

But there is also the demand. Our country seems to have an insatiable demand for drugs.

Yes it is, but there is not an insatiable demand for the drugs that are now on the streets. We have created a huge new body of opioid dependent consumers from the supply provided at one point in time by doctors. And promotion, of course, by pharmaceutical companies. We didn’t have this huge market before that. The trafficking world says, “How can we make money with this? Well, we are going to market this new heroin substitute and it will bring people to much higher tolerance levels. And it will be very difficult to get out of it then.

In this 2016 file photo, author Sam Quinones signs copies of his book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Marie Hudetz / AP)

This book builds on your last book, “Dreamland”, which focused on the opioid epidemic. But you also talk about opioids in this book and the trial of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey against members of the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma. How important was Healey’s costume?

I think the Massachusetts Attorney General’s lawsuit was very, very important. This was the first time the Sacklers had been sued by name, particularly highlighting those who served on Purdue’s board of directors. And once you start getting into that, once you get into people – real people – I think that starts to be the deterrent that prosecution should be.

When I wrote “Dreamland” there was no awareness of this problem. In fact, there were three lawsuits when I returned my manuscript. In a few years, maybe three years, there have been hundreds, eventually reaching 2,600, maybe even 3,000. This demonstrates the growing awareness of the problem, and that people were finally ready to talk about it. what was happening. Much of this is because people go out and do not hide the fact that their child or loved one is addicted.

You wrote that it is now a cliché to say, “We can’t stop our way out of this”. But you also say that we can’t get away with it either. So what’s the exit? Because it looks so dark.

No, it is not sinister. It’s natural to think, “Oh my God, this is beyond us. But that’s because I think we’ve turned our backs on the most powerful force that humans know, that has kept us alive and allowed us to survive as a species for millions of years. years. And that’s the power of the community. We have never turned our backs on it. We’ve always understood as a species how important it all was until, say, the last 30 or 40 years in America, where all of a sudden it was like, ‘Why do we need to ‘be with other people? ” And we left ourselves completely shredded.

Anyone can be a part of it. And that’s what these epidemics – this [COVID] pandemic and the opioid scourge – teach us: that we are better together, that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable. We are not as strong as the least of us.

About Cody E. Vaughn

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