Methamphetamine infects and destroys every community it enters. One frightening fact about methamphetamine is that its production is easy to learn, relatively inexpensive, and can be done anywhere. This means that meth has turned up in small towns much more than any other drug. In fact, the problem is worse in smaller cities such as Oklahoma City, Omaha, Des Moines, Las Vegas and Sacramento, than it is in large cities like New York or Detroit. The meth usage numbers show that the trend began in California and Hawaii and is migrating east. Today, the problem is worst in the Midwest, where meth accounts for nearly 90 percent of all drug cases.
During previous drug epidemics, smaller cities were often largely untouched by serious drug problems. Those drug distribution chains simply did not include Small Town, U.S.A.
Part of the reason for the type of growth that meth has shown is that the recipe for cooking methamphetamine is easier to get today than it was in the 1980s and earlier. While some of the ingredients can be difficult to obtain, there has been an increase in the trafficking of these ingredients from Mexico to thousands of small, independent groups which run "mom and pop" laboratories in the Midwest. This is possible because these ingredients are less tightly controlled in Mexico than they are in the U.S.
Whether in a small town or a huge city, however, meth creates danger and disaster for the entire community. While in a small town it may seem that "everyone," or at least everyone’s neighbors, are using the drug, big city lives are no less destroyed by the poison of meth.
Wherever clandestine (secret and hidden) labs exist, drug dealers, innocent children and neighbors, and law enforcement personnel suffer. Explosions and fire are the most common hazards. Labs have a mixture of volatile (easily evaporating) and flammable chemicals in the air. Something as simple as knocking over a container, lighting a cigarette, or turning on electrical equipment can ignite an explosion in this environment. When a lab explodes, neighbors’ property and lives are put in danger.
Contact with the chemicals is extremely dangerous. Just breathing their fumes can cause illness or permanent injury. Spouses and children of meth cooks have been made sick by living in the house with a meth lab. Law enforcement officers have suffered collapsed lungs, pneumonia, and chemical bronchitis from exposure to the fumes. Exposure to the chemicals used in meth production damages the central nervous system through the skin or respiration. The chemicals damage kidneys, and burn or irritate the skin, eyes, and nose.
In addition, some of these labs have been booby-trapped to prevent detection. Innocent people who happen to enter and law enforcement personnel who seize the labs have been injured and killed.
Each pound of meth produced leaves behind five to six pounds of toxic waste. The criminals who produce meth typically aren’t concerned with preserving the environment. Left over chemicals tend to go down household drains, into storm drains, or directly onto the ground. All of those pathways take the chemical waste into local water supplies or groundwater. The toxic byproducts of meth can persist in the soil and groundwater for years.
Other costs methamphetamine spreads to the community at large – users and non-users alike – include automobile accidents, increased criminal activity, domestic violence, emergency room and other medical costs, increased spread of infectious disease, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and lost worker productivity. Local, state, and federal governments, and ultimately, the taxpayers usually pay these costs.