Methamphetamine: A Love Story

Methamphetamine: A Love Story

by Rashi K. Shukla
Pub. Date:
University of California Press


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Methamphetamine: A Love Story

Methamphetamine: A Love Story presents an insider’s view of the world of methamphetamine based on the life stories of thirty-three adults formerly immersed in using, dealing, and manufacturing meth in rural Oklahoma. Using a respectful tone towards her subjects, Shukla illuminates their often decades-long love affair with the drug, the attractions of the lifestyle, the eventual unsustainability of it, and the challenges of exiting the life. These personal stories reveal how and why people with limited economic means and inadequate resources become entrapped in the drug epidemic, while challenging longstanding societal views about addiction, drugs, drug policy, and public health.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520291027
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 07/12/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 260
Sales rank: 815,260
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Rashi K. Shukla is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Oklahoma. She received her PhD in Criminal Justice from Rutgers University and has served as lead investigator of a multimethod study of the methamphetamine problem for more than a decade. Her research, which focuses on offender decision-making and the evolution of drug problems, has been presented in numerous forums, both nationally and internationally. Learn more about Rashi Shukla at: 

Read an Excerpt


A Love Story

By Rashi K. Shukla


Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96489-1


An Introduction to Darkness

At twenty-two years old, Evan found himself addicted to methamphetamine and the lifestyle associated with manufacturing. Even as he sat across from me and talked about his journey into this dark world and back, he struggled to make sense of it and resist the elusive hold it seemed to have on him. As he spoke, I wondered if remembering his journey would lure him back. He didn't just talk about shooting up. He opened sugar packets in the restaurant and put them in a spoon. He didn't just describe preparing the right amount of meth. He poured sugar on the table, slicing the powder into thin, equally sized lines.

Evan: I was involved, but it was a lie, you know. I thought it was ... I thought I was a big man when I was selling it and usin it and stuff.

Q: Was it like an illusion?

Evan: Yeah. It was ... What can I compare it to? I don't know. It's incomparable. Just like if someone handed you a stack of a bundle of hundred dollar bills or something, and you thought, "Wow, thanks, ten thousand dollars," and then you looked, and only the top one was real ... All the money, all the, feeling important about having it, all the money that you get from it, it all goes right back into it, so you don't actually get anything out, all that power, is just people wantin what you have and it's dangerous, you know. At first, I could only remember the good times I had on it, but I've started being able to see it all now and think, "No," I think, "Well, was that good times?" But that wasn't good times at all. That was probably the lowest part of my life. That wasn't the fun times. I don't want to live that again.

During the course of the interview, I asked Evan multiple times if this was too much. If remembering and recalling the life he had once lived was somehow too powerful and seductive, strong enough to entice him back to the life he had escaped — and to using meth. I never anticipated the issue prior to this moment. There seemed to be a danger in remembering, in reliving the experience, in talking about what he gave up. The methamphetamine. The manufacturing. The money. The sex. The addiction. The power.

Toward the end of the interview Evan pulled off his ball cap, and I saw the misshapen part of his left temple. I didn't quite understand until he said:

Evan: Yes, it was killing me. It was, it was killing me. I couldn't stop doing it. I got so addicted to it that it just took over everything else. I don't feel like I'm a liar, or a thief, or violent, or untrustworthy or dishonest, but I was then ... it's really strong, it, it took my whole life over, and it took anything that mattered to me, [everything] took a back seat to it. That was it. It was anything I could do, whatever I had to do to get it, I would do it. I couldn't stop doing it. I could not stop doing it, and I got really depressed. I couldn't see the good anymore. I just couldn't see. I had a gun, a pistol, because I didn't want anybody tryin' to rob me or come in my home and hurt me or my family, and I started having thoughts of suicide. And, I mentioned to my wife, and she kinda just acted like I was just tryin to get some attention or anything. "Oh shut up about that." I was serious. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't feel like I could talk to anybody about it and, I didn't feel like I had any friends anymore, only customers. And I ...

Q: This was when you were heavy into meth?

Evan: Oh, yeah. I couldn't stop doing it. I was more addicted than anybody I knew. There were some friends of mine that would not come around me because I was too gone. And, on March the eleventh of 1997, I took the nine millimeter and put it in my mouth and fired it. And I shot the top of my head off. [He points to the places where plates are.] And this is a metal plate, this is a metal plate, this is a metal plate, and so is this, and this is where they don't come together, and if you'll look at the roof of my mouth, there's a very small hole from the bullet. [He opens his mouth and shows me the hole.] And they had to remove a third, that's what happened to my teeth, the recoil when it went into my mouth. They had to remove a third of my brain from bone splinters. And I was in the hospital for almost six months, and I wasn't supposed to live. And I, I lived. And I stopped using methamphetamine.

He stopped for a period of time. However, shooting himself in the head wasn't enough to stop completely. It wasn't enough to escape the grip meth had on him. He got back into the lifestyle and started using again, only later finding his way back out once more. And here he sat before me — clean for five years, clean for now.

The illusion of methamphetamine is that it gives you everything you've ever wanted. The truth of the tragedy is that it takes everything you have. It destroys lives.

There is darkness in the deepest depths of the world of methamphetamine. There is no light in the pits of despair that overtake those who become seduced by meth and all it seems to offer. In these corners of reality, those who find themselves immersed beyond control come face to face with the darkness that permeates this world. It is blackness at its very core; something not comprehendible to those who have never known it. It is here, in the deepest levels of the world, that the tragic power of methamphetamine lies. It is the point at which all bets are off. Where there is no turning back — no resetting of the clock, no erasing of time. It is the point at which they cease to be who they always were and truly are. For some, it is a point of no return.

Those who become enthralled are forced to confront a hard-core reality: there is only one way to survive this murky and dangerous world — by meeting darkness with darkness. It is the reality lived by those who told me their stories; they were among those who survived — the few who escaped. They lived to tell about it. But it was not by chance.

They survived because they did what they had to do, no matter how damaging and destructive. They visited edges and corners of reality where few ever go. It is a place from which some never return and even fewer ever admit to. They shared what they had seen, experienced, and participated in, so that we would know. They shared it so that you would know. It is by every measure the essence of the truth of the tragedy that is methamphetamine.

In lieu of judgment, I challenge you to appreciate the opportunity provided to see what goes on in the deepest corners of the world of methamphetamine. I challenge you to respect their honesty and appreciate their willingness to share some of the most tragic and soul-crushing experiences of their lives. It is critical that we see things as they really are. The fact that they were willing to admit to some of the most ominous truths about their lives and the things they had done so that we could understand and learn is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.


Methamphetamine has been around in various licit and illicit forms for decades. It is a derivative of amphetamines. Methamphetamine is ingested, smoked, injected, snorted, or inserted. The drug is known by various street names including crank, ice, crystal, chalk, and speed.

Its effects are long lasting; the high can last for hours. Users may stay awake for several days on drug-fueled binges. The powerful effects of this synthetic drug, combined with the lack of sleep that accompanies extended use, result in serious behavioral and mental consequences. Users may experience meth psychosis, which can cause extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, leading them to sometimes be referred to as tweakers.

The Faces of Meth campaign was one of the first means by which people came to learn about methamphetamine. Post-arrest images illustrated physical effects of methamphetamine over time. These were among the first images to provide undeniable, visual evidence of the extreme deterioration that can accompany addiction to the drug. The persons in the "after meth" versions of these pictures appear dangerous and scary. While such images provide visual validation of the external deterioration that can accompany methamphetamine abuse, self-neglect, and involvement in the lifestyle, the message conveyed is incomplete. The photos seemingly suggest that users can be identified on the basis of physical characteristics related to their consumption of the drug. These depictions, however, fail to account for the reality that not everyone who uses meth ends up looking like the images portrayed. They add an additional layer of stigma.

News stories represent another important source of information. Local and national headlines include the following: Police: Meth addiction led Utah mom to kill 6 newborns, Boy riding on father's bicycle handlebars burned when "shake-and-bake" meth lab explodes, Porta-potty meth lab found on golf course, Meth lab found under toddler's mattress, My home was a former meth lab, Bloomfield man found with needle stuck in his arm, 13-Person meth case ends with sentencing, Two charged for making meth in front of a child, Mexico seizes record amount of methamphetamine, and Australian police make record meth seizure. The headlines serve as reminders of the need for more effective responses and solutions.

The problem is composed of three distinct but highly interrelated facets: use, trafficking, and clandestine manufacturing. The drug is supplied to local communities via traditional sources of drug distribution as well as local production in clandestine laboratories. Changes or shifts in one method of supply influence the other. As local production increases, the demand for trafficked methamphetamine declines, and vice versa. While manufacturing is a serious problem in specific regions, the problem is not limited to the United States.

Three main types of laboratories exist. Super labs, originally found in California, produce the largest quantities of finished product (e.g., ten or more pounds). Today, the largest super labs operate out of Mexico. Mom-and-pop laboratories, also known as small toxic laboratories (STLs), are medium sized and produce enough to supply small networks of users (e.g., one to four ounces). Shake-and-bake laboratories, also known as the one-pot method, represent the smallest and newest type of laboratory. Shake-and-bake laboratories produce small quantities of the drug, generally only enough for individual consumption. Different manufacturing processes can be utilized within a single type of laboratory.

Many of the ingredients used to manufacture the drug are legally available, because they have legitimate household, commercial, and industrial uses. For example, red phosphorus can be used as a fertilizer, pesticide, and in the manufacturing of pyrotechnics. Anhydrous ammonia, a common farm fertilizer, is stolen from tanks in farming communities or obtained from over-the-counter cold packs. Other commonly used ingredients include drain cleaner, muriatic acid, and lithium batteries, all of which can be purchased at regular stores. Key precursor chemicals used to make meth include ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine. While the former are found in cold and allergy products, phenylpropanolamine is only available by prescription for animal use. The chemicals can be extracted from products that contain them.

In the United States, responding to the clandestine manufacturing component of the problem took priority due to the imminent dangers posed by lab-related fires, explosions, and contamination. Highly specialized skills, expertise, special equipment, and mechanisms for safe disposal are required for proper response. The costs of cleaning up a contaminated laboratory site can be thousands of dollars depending on size and the extent of contamination that has occurred. In recent years, the burdens of remediation have shifted from the federal level to the local and state levels.

Federally, legislation aimed at stopping clandestine manufacturing was enacted in each of the last three decades. The most significant of these was the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act (CMEA) of 2005, which enhanced controls on access to products containing key precursor chemicals. Today, purchasable quantities of pseudoephedrine are limited to 3.6 grams per day and 7.5 grams in any thirty-day period without a prescription. At the state levels, legislative initiatives vary widely and include the reclassification of pseudoephedrine as a controlled substance available only by prescription. Evaluations of effectiveness have documented short-term and limited victories at best.

The costs of this problem are both direct and indirect. Direct costs include expenditures for law enforcement personnel time, equipment, and biohazard suits, and risks related to the disposal of contaminated chemicals and other leftover materials. Indirect costs include those related to environmental contamination, property damage, medical care, child social services, and the criminal justice system.

The misconception is that methamphetamine "happens somewhere else" or is a concern only for those directly affected. The truth is that the two worlds — the one of methamphetamine and the one we live in — are inextricably interconnected. While the world of methamphetamine may seem far from the reality you and I live in, it has the potential to exist next door. Six main public health issues often overlooked in responses to the drug problem include: child endangerment, abuse, and neglect; toxic places; intravenous drug use; risky sex; risky drug use; and drug-related violence.

Child Endangerment, Abuse, and Neglect: To the extent that drug-related activities take place in the home, children may be forced to come into contact with those engaged in the drug lifestyle, placing them at risk for exposure to drugs and criminal activity. Preoccupied parents and caregivers may place children's well-being second to the drug. Children are at risk of physical, psychological, and emotional neglect and abuse. The perils for children are even greater when methamphetamine is manufactured in the home. In addition to harms from exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals, children may be harmed by injuries resulting from fires, explosions, and burns.

Toxic Places: Manufacturing is volatile, toxic, and dangerous. Production processes require the use of hazardous and poisonous chemicals. Noxious gases are released during the production process and contaminated waste materials remain following the completion of a cook (i.e., manufacturing session). The locations and sites where production occurs as well as disposal sites for residual chemicals and supplies result in environmental contamination. Because those engaged in manufacturing often go to great lengths to evade detection, manufacturing-related activities place themselves, those around them, and first responders at risk.

Intravenous Drug Use: People continue to use drugs intravenously in spite of few sources of legal access to needles. In the face of limited legitimate options, injecting drug users often obtain needles from illicit sources, share needles to inject drugs, and dispose of needles in an unsafe manner. Risky injection practices include the sharing of syringes, which increases the likelihood of the transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

Risky Sex: In the underground world, sexual activities are often exchanged for drugs or the money to purchase them. Risky sex includes having multiple sex partners and engaging in sexual activities in particularly risky ways (e.g., without condoms, with prostitutes, or with known intravenous drug users). In addition, the enhanced sexuality and loss of inhibition that accompanies use has the potential to contribute to drug-facilitated sexual assaults. Heightened sexuality, one of the side-effects of methamphetamine, may be a contributory factor for the sexual abuse of children among those who use drugs. It is not uncommon for those on the front lines to find pornography, including child pornography, in methamphetamine homes.

Risky Drug Use and the Ongoing Search for Highs: Risky drug use and related behaviors continue to evolve and adapt with increasingly negative and serious costs. The consequences of detection encourage people to keep their activities underground and to avoid getting caught. This may be one of the contributory factors behind the increase in use of newer types of drugs about which little is known, including: synthetic marijuana, spice, K2, bath salts, krokodil, and flakka. Some youths participate in other dangerous behaviors (e.g., the choking game) in the ongoing search for new highs. Such behaviors may be lethal. Risks also accompany the black market. Drugs can be adulterated, or "cut," by dealers to increase quantities and profits. However, risk is not restricted to illegal drugs. Prescription drug abuse is one of the most serious problems in the United States. Overdose-related deaths have tripled since 1990. An estimated 113 people die from drug overdoses each day, making it a leading cause of injury in the U.S.

Drug-Related Violence: Drug-related violence is not solely carried out by transnational offenders. Rather, it is a real aspect of the underground market. The problem plagues cities across the United States. The willingness of drug traffickers to engage in increasingly violent acts to retain territory and maintain profits continues. For example, drug-related violence in Mexico is rising, as local cartels produce and supply large quantities of illicit drugs for the U.S. market. This evolution has resulted in the creation of new terminology to define the brutal types of drug-related violence discovered. Rochkind explains:


Excerpted from Methamphetamine by Rashi K. Shukla. Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Foreword Marcus Felson ix

Acknowledgments xi

Author's Note xv

1 An Introduction to Darkness 1

2 Pathways to Methamphetamine 20

3 Loving Meth 39

4 Dealing Meth 55

5 Manufacturing Meth 72

6 An Intoxicating Life 99

7 A Risky Life 127

8 A Dark Life 155

9 Life After Meth 181

10 The Journey Ends? 211

Appendix A Methamphetamine Laboratory Indicators 227

Notes 229

References 233

Index 241

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