(NewsNation) — The proliferation of methamphetamine produced in Mexican labs over the last decade has left law enforcement with their hands full, and one veteran journalist says it’s also a major driving force of homelessness across the country.
At times dubbed “super meth,” the highly potent version of the drug has been the subject of warnings from the Drug Enforcement Administration since at least 2019, when officials said it was being seized along interstates in Louisiana.
More recently, the drug was cited in an uptick in overdose deaths in April 2022 in Tucson, Arizona, and it was prevalent last year in Atlanta. Officials in Philadelphia reported an uptick in the drug, too.
The easy and cheap to make product has been a boon for the Mexican drug trafficking trade, with authorities in some areas saying it caused local U.S. labs to cease production.
Sam Quinones, a veteran journalist and author who’s written two books on America’s fight against opioids and meth, chronicled the rise of the drug for an essay in The Atlantic in 2021.
Quinones joined “CUOMO” on Tuesday to explain how meth’s chemical composition has changed and what it’s doing to people across America.
“What’s happening coming out of Mexico right now is that the the Mexican trafficking world now is making meth a different way than it has in the in the past,” Quinones said. “In the last 10 years, they’ve had to switch to a new kind of precursor ingredient … that is very easily made, and … they can get all the chemicals they need to make this drug in quantities that up to now we have never seen in this country, and at potencies we have also never seen.”
Michael Nolan, an addiction counselor in Atlanta, told WSB-TV last year that the way the body and mind react to that ingredient, P2P, short for phenyl-2-propanone, is different than previous iterations of meth. Users aren’t warned by a racing heart or energy boost that they need to take a break.
“People are just taking so much of the drug and getting so high, that it’s causing rapid physical decline, rapid mental health issues,” Nolan said.
The meth can cause paranoia, hallucinations and even schizophrenia. The drug is as much as 93% pure, up from 39% in 2008.
Quinones argues the drug’s potency and its effects are a “major driving force” of homelessness.
“It’s also keeping people, who may be homeless for many, many other reasons, on the street because once you’re on the street, this drug is so prevalent that everybody kind of gradually migrates to using it, and once you begin using it, it’s very difficult to get off the street,” Quinones said.
Exacerbating the public health crisis is fentanyl, which can be cut into other drugs to boost a trafficker’s bottom line — they can sell a smaller quantity but maintain the effects a buyer expects. The extremely lethal drug has been responsible for a surge in overdose deaths over the past several years.
The DEA seized a record 50.6 million fentanyl pills in 2022, which combined with the nearly 11,000 pounds of fentanyl powder equated to more than 379 million lethal doses. Authorities say two milligrams is enough to kill someone.
Just this week, U.S. border officials seized more than 800,000 pills at the Nogales Port of Entry in two days. The Tucson area of operation leads the nation in fentanyl seizures, with more than 18.8 million pills recovered since October.
“Both of these drugs are extraordinarily devastating in their own way and made more so, again I say, because the supplies of the stuff have really just covered the country,” Quinones said. “We have never in our history had one source, meaning the Mexican trafficking world in this case, cover the entire country with one, let alone two drugs, but that is the case today.”