1. Crystal meth is a global phenomenon.
Around 13 million Americans have tried crystal meth, a drug that gives an intense crack-like high, but which lasts far longer. In the US its ubiquity among poor, rural communities in the mid west has led it to be nicknamed the ‘white trash’ drug. It is also popular in the Czech Republic, South Africa, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
2. However, in Britain, more people take old-school hippy drug LSD than meth.
Home Office statistics show that only around 17, 000 people used methamphetamine (either in its powder or its more potent crystal form) in the last year. This compares to two million who had used cannabis, 627, 000 who had used cocaine, 120, 000 who had used ketamine and 55, 000 who had used LSD in the last year. Crystal meth-related deaths, arrests, convictions and seizures in Britain are extremely low.
3. It’s quite popular in the gay clubbing world.
Around one-fifth of clubbers on the London gay scene have tried methamphetamine in some form. But more worrying for drug agencies is the rising trend of ‘slamming parties’ – lengthy gay orgies fuelled by Viagra and injecting crystal meth, which reduces inhibitions and prolongs sex. The parties, which often involve unprotected sex with nearby strangers who are invited using mobile apps such as Grindr, have sparked a rise in gay men addicted to the drug and a jump in gay drug users who are testing positive for HIV.
4. And it’s in the news at the moment thanks to the ‘Crystal Methodist’.
Initially, Paul Flowers, the Methodist minister and former Co-op Bank chairman arrested after being caught on camera allegedly buying crystal meth along with a host of other illegal drugs, seems an unlikely user. But text messages unearthed by the Mail On Sunday, which carried out the investigation, revealed he hung out with dealers and rent boys who were involved in the ‘slamming’ scene.
5. But is there a meth epidemic in Britain? No.
Many times in the last decade the British media have excitedly heralded the start of a British crystal meth epidemic, only to be let down by the truth. Even so, newspapers will use any excuse to wheel out the ubiquitous Faces Of Meth mug shots from Multnomah County sheriff’s office in Oregon. When asked why he was printing another false crystal meth epidemic story, one Sun journalist admitted that it was “just a good opportunity to reprint those before and after pictures of meth addicts because our readers love ‘em”.
6. So why is it not taking off?
Methamphetamine in powder and pill form has been around in Britain since the 1970s, but has never taken off in the way other amphetamine-based drugs have. Experts say it has not caught on here because of the cheapness and good availability of cocaine and other stimulant drugs including ecstasy and now mephedrone. Crystal meth is a DIY drug generally produced and sold in areas with limited access to cosmopolitan dealing hubs. Hence in the US, crystal meth is far more popular in the mid-west than it is in New York.
7. And our crack using population, the most likely meth adopters, hate it.
Even though crack, cocaine and heroin purity is falling, a fact that police chiefs feared would result in a meth epidemic, most of Britain’s problem drug users have decided to stick with using crack and heroin in tandem, as most have done since the mid 1990s. In 2006 in Hastings a group of nine crack users accidentally bought crystal meth instead of their favourite tipple. “They had bought it by accident and they hated it,” said their drug worker. “They had resorted to chewing cardboard all night because they were not coming down.”
8. Do we have our own meth producers? Is there a British Walt and Jesse?
Not quite. The first meth lab in Britain was discovered in a bungalow on the Isle of Wight in 2005. Timothy Morgan, 41, became the first person in the country to be convicted of making crystal meth, which he also cooked from the boot of his BMW. But his business plan failed as he could not find any dealers to sell his product. Since then only six police forces in the country have found a meth lab. In the most recent incident in October, police found a makeshift meth lab, pictured above, in Weston-super-Mare.
9. In fact, there are more toy meth labs in Britain than real ones.
Spoof Lego company Citizen Brick caused outrage in September for its build your own meth lab toy which the Daily Mail branded an “inappropriate plaything”.
However, traffickers still see a future in the UK market for crystal meth. Last year saw a 400% rise in the number of methamphetamine seizures made by the UK Border Agency. So the drug most feared by police and drug treatment agencies still waits in the wings.