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Registered: 07/25/04
Posts: 17,505
Faster, Speedfreak! Cook! Cook!
    #4549539 - 08/17/05 11:09 PM (18 years, 8 months ago)

Faster, Speedfreak! Cook! Cook!
August 17, 2005 - LA City Beat

Homemade crystal meth makes another big comeback, and the hapless War on Drugs fumbles once again

I don't have a bedtime, I don't have to come, Since I became an amphetamine bum - The Fugs

Like some demented e-mail from Julia Child, one website recipe calls for 200 pseudoephedrine pills (Actifed, Sudafed, Suphedrine, etc.), one and a half cups of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, three cans of lighter fluid, three AA Energizer lithium batteries, one bottle of Red Devil lye, water, iodized salt, and one bottle of Liquid Fire drain opener. Another substitutes sulphuric acid and aluminum foil for the lye and drain opener. Other cookers recommend crushed aluminum beer cans. All the components in these hellish brews are the basic ingredients in what's known as the "Nazi method" of cooking methamphetamine. If done right, the process can yield between one and four ounces of crystal meth, but the process, although simple, is seemingly fraught with pitfalls. One of the multitude of online instructors issues stern warnings - "wear a mask and gloves if you can" - "do it someplace remote" - "be careful of the sulphuric acid because that shit will eat you to the bone" - and "make sure there's not moisture in or around the bucket, or KA-FUCKING-BOOM!"

L.A. CityBeat doesn't commission felonies, so I won't elaborate on the exact details of the Nazi method of speed production, but suffice to say - aside from the possibility of painful acid burns, a truly foul smell, and devastating explosions - it involves buckets, rubber tubing, kitty litter, and a lot of stuff that can be found under the kitchen sink. When the hardest part of the process is avoiding blowing oneself up, the levels of quality control have to be both dubious and questionable. As one who was a moderate-to-excessive speedfreak from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s - the Who's "My Generation" to the Clash's "White Riot," if you want the cultural markers - and has the scars to prove it, I'm both appalled at the prospect of ingesting anything that employs drain cleaner in its preparation, and relieved I did my time in the amphetamine trenches when the drug was manufactured by major pharmaceutical corporations, or at least outlaw chemists who had more than just basic culinary skills.

Big Trouble at the Kwik-E-Mart

In the last few years, DIY drug production has become so popular and widespread that it is now surrounded by something close to official hysteria. All over the country, politicians and law enforcement are working on ways to thwart the booming cottage industry. While cops hunt for amateur meth labs in the hinterlands, lawmakers address the supply side and seek to restrict the availability of pseudoephedrine cold remedies like Sudafed, Actifed, and NyQuil. Locally, Riverside County is leading the crusade against crank, and consumers buying cold cures are required to give store clerks their names, addresses, telephone numbers, and driver's license numbers. Los Angeles County is currently biding its time. Speed has never been an eminently big-city problem, and authorities are waiting to see how things pan out in Riverside. Dr. Jonathan Fielding, L.A. County's public health director, told the Los Angeles Times that he was "intrigued" by Riverside County's idea: "It's innovative. But I don't think we know at this point what's going to be effective."

The national response to what's been dubbed "the meth epidemic" has been a patchwork action, state by state - or even, as in California, county by county. Some areas have ignored the problem, while others have become frenzied, like Indiana - where state police busted 1,500 meth labs last year - or Watauga County, North Carolina - where District Attorney Jerry Wilson is using antiterrorism laws to prosecute meth-lab cases.

Frenzied is hardly the word, though, for the Northern District of Georgia; there, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias staged Operation Meth Merchant, a bizarre sting in which ex-cons and speedfreaks - usually as part of a plea deal - were sent out to rural Georgia kwik-E-marts to buy Sudafed and make known their intention to cook up a batch of meth. Operation Meth Merchant netted 49 convenience-store clerks and owners, who were charged with selling materials used to make methamphetamine, with each facing up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Federal prosecutors claimed that hidden cameras and microphones had caught workers acknowledging that the purchases were for cooking meth. Nahmias thundered triumphantly to the media, "We really wanted to send the message that if you get into that line of business, selling products that you know are going to be used to make meth, you're going to go to prison."

As the cases came to court, the truth quickly emerged that all but five of the accused were Indian immigrants (32 were named Patel, which made the rednecks very paranoid but only indicated they came from the Gujarat area), and their command of English was purely transactional, less than that of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of The Simpsons fame. As defense lawyer Steve Sadow told The New York Times, "Their business is: I ring it up, you leave, I've done my job." Hajira Ahmed, whose husband is in jail, charged with selling cold medicine and antifreeze at their store on a back road near the Tennessee border, voiced the general confusion: "This is the first time I heard this - I don't know how to pronounce - this meta-meta something."

In an attempt to standardize the law on a federal level, and maybe prevent more ludicrous grandstanding like Operation Meth Merchant, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) have sponsored a bill requiring stores to sell Sudafed, NyQuil, and other medicines containing pseudoephedrine only from behind the pharmacy counter. Consumers would have to show a photo ID, sign a log, and be limited to 250 30-milligram pills in a 30-day period. Computer tracking would prevent visits to multiple stores. Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc., the manufacturer of Sudafed, will be introducing Sudafed PE next January. Made with phenylephrine, Sudafed PE cannot be cooked down into meth.

Retail pharmacists are, however, dubious about the legal stampede to regulate pseudoephedrine. A pharmacist at a Longs Drugs in Riverside complained to the L.A. Times, "Imagine you're in line and you're sick and getting antibiotics and you have to wait behind three people who have to fill out a stupid log."

But Why Do They Call It the 'Nazi Method'?

Be under no illusion. Speedfreaks lie. I've done it myself. All too often, they make up their extended motormouth monologues as they go along. Down the years, speedfreaks have always favored the legend that the Nazis invented methedrine, but speed actually has a history that extends for more than a century, totally predating the Nazis. In fact, basic amphetamine was first synthesized as early as 1887, and used as a bronchiodialator for asthmatics, until popularized by the pharmaceutical giant Smith Kline & French as Benzedrine in 1932. The more potent methamphetamine was developed in Japan in 1919, and initially marketed as a diet aid in the U.S. under the brand name Desoxyn. But this is not to say that there was no Nazi connection; it could well be claimed that Adolf Hitler was the greatest speedfreak of all time, rivaled only by John F. Kennedy and Johnny Cash.

Hitler, a major hypochondriac, had his weird court physician, Dr. Theodor Morell, shoot him up daily with curious cocktails of medication that included not only the ever-popular methamphetamine, but cocaine, testosterone, corticosteroids, strychnine, atropine, and numerous vitamins. As one speedfreak remarked during the research for this story, "No wonder he made so many mistakes." And where the Leader led, the followers followed. Working on the principle of better-blitzkriegs-through-chemistry, the Nazis supplied their troops with almost unlimited quantities of Pervitin, a methamphetamine drug developed by the Temmler pharmaceutical company. Surviving German records indicate that, during the short period between April and July 1940, more than 35 million 3mm tablets of Pervitin were shipped to the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe, and the SS. In 1942, a German doctor reported from the eastern front that 500 of his men had been surrounded by the Red Army. The temperature was below zero, and the snow waist-deep. "More and more soldiers were so exhausted they lay down in the snow," he wrote. Then Pervitin was issued, and the doctor observed: "The men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better. Their spirits improved, and they became more alert."

In all fairness, legends abound of Benzedrine and Desoxyn circulating among American and British troops, especially bomber crews, in World War II, but the Allies were a tad more covert than Hitler's boys. Covert, however, was abandoned in the Cold War peace that followed when, according to dense, sub-level conspiracy theorizing, the pharmaceutical companies and sections of the Eisenhower administration (in between signing treaties with the aliens) entertained a Stepford-utopian anthill-dream of a society both fueled and controlled by amphetamines. Production-line workers would work, typists would type, homemakers would cook, dust, and vacuum - all tweaking out of their heads until put to rest by bring-'em-down doses of barbiturates in time to watch Leave It to Beaver. Speed was packaged as everything from an antidepressant to a diet aid, and all might have gone according to plan, had not so many Stepford speed-wives done the Lucy Jordan, climbing on the roof when the voices grew too loud.

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Speed was actually off the social-control drawing board, and filed under "highly addictive/bad idea," by the time of its mighty swan song with JFK, when it may well have become - taking into account the drug's capacity to facilitate grandiose fantasies - the psycho-chemical stimulant that took humanity to both the moon and the brink of nuclear war. With a chronically damaged spine and possibly Addison's disease, Jack Kennedy constantly searched for more better painkillers, and he figured he had found what he wanted when he ran into Dr. Max Jacobson, the original 1960s Dr. Feelgood, who, at the time, was servicing the New York jet set - from Tennessee Williams to Bob Fosse - with shots of methedrine and B12.

Dr. Max began injecting Kennedy, almost daily, with speedballs of vitamins, animal placentas, and methedrine. Singer Eddie Fisher, who was also a client/patient of Dr. Max, recalled in his biography, Eddie: My Life, My Loves: "Looking back on it, it's amazing how we all just accepted the fact that the president was taking Dr. Feelgood with him to a meeting that would affect the entire world. The fate of the free world rested on Max's injections. I can still see Max taking a little from this bottle, a little from that one, and pull down your pants, Mr. President."

With JFK gone, though, speed entered a new phase of its existence. Pharmaceutical amphetamines were gradually being made harder to obtain legally, and an underground market was flourishing among bikers, truckers, petty criminals, artists, drag queens, and musicians. The pre-fame Elvis Presley had stolen his mother's diet pills, but, by 1965, Johnny Cash found himself busted at the El Paso airport with 668 Dexedrine and 475 Equanil - just his walking-around stash - and, by his own account, was firmly in the grip of fear and loathing: "I'd talk to the demons and they'd talk back to me." While the Rolling Stones sang "Mother's Little Helper," English mods dealt the "little yellow pills" on a thriving black market, and bands like the Who and the Move made themselves embodiments of pillhead triumph over hunger, sleep, orgasm, and reality. (For a musical analog of Dexedrine horrors, one need look no further than the Move's 1966 "Night of Fear," with its borrowed Tchaikovsky riff.) As the pharmaceutical industry backed out of the amphetamine business (except in Vietnam, where it supplied more than 225 million doses to U.S. troops during the course of the war), the underground/underworld moved in to fill the demand, and did it with the help of one of the most bizarre connections in all the annals of recreational drugs.

Finger Lickin' Good

Through the 1950s, the western world began eating more chicken than any period man had ever seen. Hens no longer strolled the barnyard; poultry was raised to be finger-lickin' good in vast aircraft hangers, with millions of birds racked like some avian matrix. Breathing problems were endemic in these factory farms, and feed was heavily laced with bronchiodialators, including ephedrine, the precursor drug of today's pseudoephedrine. I remember a former biker describing just how easy things were back in the early days of outlaw manufacture. "If you couldn't steal a 50-pound drum of chicken ephedrine, you could buy it in an agriculture supply store," he said. "The cops didn't give a fuck about agri-chemicals or even ephedrine back then. You could also pick up ammonium nitrate, and maybe a shotgun, at the same place. Real one-stop shopping."

It was also during this period that speedfreaks started to acquire a very bad reputation as those who didn't eat or sleep, could fuck for hours or not at all, talked incessantly, concocted elaborate conspiracy theories, made weird notes and drawings, exhibited multiple obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and increasingly verged on the psychotic. LSD may have ushered in the 1967 Summer of Love, but speed took it out. Warhol transvestite superstar Holly Woodlawn recalls the time in her autobiography, A Low Life in High Heels: "Methedrine, melba toast, and a strong cup of coffee were always the eye opener, and got me ready for the rigorous task of dressing for the night ahead. There were always occasions when [Jackie] Curtis had shot too much speed and came out looking like a Picasso with one eye on her cheek and the other on her forehead." My own speedfreak breakfasts were more like a pint of Guinness (the only thing my stomach would endure), as, unshaven, Manson-eyed, and three days in the same clothes, I wandered gray dawns with Lemmy (who would ultimately found Mot?rhead) in search of friends still awake who would listen to our plans for fame and world domination by the following Tuesday. Our worst rambling scenario was that we would be trapped in the squares' rush hour, and a world that rapidly transformed itself into an insane Wally Wood/Mad magazine crowd scene, and I would have to drag myself home, swallow Valium, talk to the cat, and then sleep for 14 hours.

But (in unconscious parody of my subject) I digress.

The sale of pharmaceutical amphetamines peaked in the late 1960s at around 10 billion tablets worldwide, and then rapidly declined, helped in no small part by the Controlled Substances Act, which all but eliminated legal use and turned the entire ballgame over to the outlaws. Biker groups, notably the Hells Angels and the Gypsy Jokers, and white supremacists like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Low Riders took control of the meth trade. The word "crank" came into common use, and speed took on the trailer-park, tattooed-white-trash image that it still enjoys today - the "all-American high," as HBO dubbed it while promoting a heartland speed documentary titled (with originality) Crank.

But the blue-collar pop image of speed for-the-people, by-the-people - promoted by movies like Spun and The Salton Sea - may already be history. Through the 1980s and 1990s, the DEA, armed with RICO predicates and racketeering statutes, mounted a series of takedown campaigns against the bikers and neo-Nazis, disrupting what little organization they had and leaving the business wide open to Mexican mafiosi like the brothers Jesus and Luis Amezcua, who were able to make the double play of establishing a reliable supply of good-quality ephedrine and operating a standardized and highly efficient clandestine lab system, based right here in Southern California.

Superlabs and Meth Orphans

According to court records, in the mid-1990s, the Amezcua brothers imported an estimated 170 metric tons of ephedrine - made in India, China, Germany, and the Czech Republic - in a single 18-month period, and processed it in their string of clandestine "superlabs" that were, with commercial-grade hardware, able to turn out 100,000 or even a million doses of good crystal meth in a two-day production run. The Amezcuas, and those like them, raised meth's purity. They fueled the rave scene, the '90s tweakers twitching on Santa Monica Boulevard, and the legendary White Parties that culminated in the famous Easter weekend in Palm Springs, attended by 7,000 gay men, which one wag described as "cesspools of reckless drug users having lots of risky sexual behaviors." Their biggest achievement, though, was the marketing of ice, the smokable methedrine. Initially, ice was promoted as a major chemical breakthrough, achieved a certain extreme chic, and was priced accordingly. My culinary expert in cyberspace, unfortunately, claims that this is not even close to the truth. Ice was nothing special: "It all depends on how you handle the crystal. After [the cooking process is] done, it will be one big chunk of rock. You can either crush it up into a powder form and sell it as crank - which seems to go farther - or you can break it off in small chunks and sell it as ice - goes shorter but people LOVE ice. It's as simple as that."

An impartial observer might ask: If these superlabs still exist today - and every indication is that they do, in spades - why is so much time, energy, and media attention being devoted to stopping small-time tweakers who, on average, cook up $250 to $500 worth of meth to sell - with "two weeks" worth left over for personal use"? The unhappy answer is that this is the War on Drugs, where everything is ass-backward. The penny-ante cookers are a nuisance, but they make for easy results and lurid sound bites. A cooker blows himself up in some rural slum. It gets on TV. Even if the lab doesn't explode, the smell tips off the neighbors, and the cops come a-raiding in hazmat suits. And they get on TV.

Indeed, a fast web search quickly reveals that meth is a boon to copy-hungry small-town newspapers and TV stations, who gleefully repeat horror stories of "addicts so high on meth that even a Taser won't stop them," describe how meth addicts believe that everyone is out to get them, even innocent strangers or inanimate objects," and roll out ponderous editorial phrases like "the crisis of the new millennium." Even network news is not exempt. On July 20, CBS ran a story on the "new generation of helpless victims," the "meth orphans" - children who are taken from their parents after raids on down-home meth labs, and are "stretching an already strained child welfare system to its limit." On August 9, NBC shlepped out Drug Czar John Walters to underline the alarm over "meth orphans" and reinforce this new, what-about-the-children? spin in the propaganda war on speed.

Unfortunately, the media hysteria over DIY meth-cookers distorts the figures and the real picture. Sure, the mom-and-pop labs constitute a majority of those engaged in methedrine production, but they are in no way making most of the meth. The superlabs account for the bulk of the product - some estimates run as high as 90 percent of all the meth manufactured in the U.S. - but they represent only 4 percent of the total labs. The vast majority of meth labs in the U.S. - 8,000 of the 8,300 seized in 2001 - are home-user operations cooking no more than 280 hits at a time. Sudafed can be outlawed, and hundreds of small trailer-park labs shut down live on the evening news, but it is only an illusion of something being done. Even if John Walters, Jerry Wilson, David Nahmias, and all the other drug warriors could achieve the impossible and terminate the entire homemade meth industry, the superlabs of the Mexican mob and other organized entrepreneurs will still be grinding the crack and the ice, and, with the gadfly competition eliminated, even be able to maximize their profits in a monopoly market. Meanwhile, speed will go on being consumed and abused, just as it ever was.

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The BodyElectric
Registered: 01/02/05
Posts: 63
Loc: NJ, USA
Re: Faster, Speedfreak! Cook! Cook! [Re: veggie]
    #4550192 - 08/18/05 02:02 AM (18 years, 8 months ago)

Kick ass find, veggie. The title hooked me. "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" was a fun little movie. If things get bad enough, I wonder if more money/time will be spent on cracking down on crank rather than the more common "gateway" drugs. Perhaps it'll be an opening for some decriminalization, although I doubt it. It seems the judicial branch is more than happy to burden a nation with one law after another, but it's a whole lot more reluctant to withdraw any.

Convienent, really. It's gotten to a point where you can't walk out your door without having broken a law of some sort. Sorry, rambling. Thanks for the link.

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stranger than most
 User Gallery

Registered: 04/10/03
Posts: 4,324
Loc: Around the corner
Last seen: 1 year, 19 days
Re: Faster, Speedfreak! Cook! Cook! [Re: bwalker]
    #4552733 - 08/18/05 06:15 PM (18 years, 8 months ago)

Great read.

Thanks Veggie!


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Registered: 12/23/99
Posts: 8,946
Re: Faster, Speedfreak! Cook! Cook! [Re: veggie]
    #4553108 - 08/18/05 07:39 PM (18 years, 8 months ago)

man that took a long time to read :smile:

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