Cooking Meth in Rural America: What is The Alchemy of Meth?

Recently, anthropologist Jason Pine released his book – The Alchemy of Meth. It focused on the history of meth abuse in Missouri and beyond. According to Pine, the idea behind this book was to complicate the popular narrative that surrounds the drug. He wanted to show just how massive and messy the world of meth use is and how it affects the average person.

Drugs like heroin and crack cocaine have become relatively commonplace in urban America since the 1970s and 1980s, but meth has never really had that association with a specific location – it’s been everywhere. At first, one would usually find a meth lab on the fringes of populated areas where the people cooking the meth drug had enough privacy and space to do their business. As time passed and the government began to place restrictions on the bulk purchase of pseudoephedrine used to make meth, meth became harder to obtain, and meth labs reduced in number. This happened in 2006, and the number of meth lab seizures reduced in the two years following that year.

However, as is often the case in these situations, an alternative sprung up for making meth shake and bake. How do you make meth in this form, though? Shake, and bake was the result of a new recipe where the cooks could create the drug in small amounts in an empty bottle of soda. It was an incredibly tricky business because any mistake could have the bottle explode. Learning how to wash meth remnants was another tricky part, so it all required quite a bit of skill. However, it was also more convenient because these small portions could be cooked almost anywhere. It was the beginning of the transformation of meth from being just a rural drug to something that could be found almost anywhere.

crystal meth close up.

Pine already began his research through this period, and by the early 2010s, when he was in the middle of it, more reports had started to spring up about meth houses. At this point, Missouri had the highest number of meth lab busts, and a particular county in the state, which Pine studied was known as the meth capital of the US. Meth thrived in Missouri in part due to the financial problems arising from the reduced number of factory jobs in the area. Citizens of the state started learning how to make methamphetamine in a bid to supplement their insufficient income, while some others used the drug personally as a performance enhancer. It helped them to work longer hours, and this was particularly useful for factory workers and other people that worked in the labor sector.

Through the course of his study, Pine met and followed the lives of a number of meth abusers. There was a particularly interesting case of a boy whose drug abuse started form taking his father’s prescription medication at the age of 9. By 2004, this boy – Ray – had learned how to make meth and started cooking.

Pine also uncovered some information about the pharmacies that sold materials needed to cook meth to people in the area. He found that some stores provided materials for people learning how to cook meth. The relative ease of cooking the drug had made it a lot easier for this to happen because the most basic, unsuspicious objects such as aluminum foil, bottles, camping stove and, cold tablets could be used in the process of cooking meth.

Since Jason Pine concluded his research on American meth labs in the country, meth lab seizures have once again plunged – even more so in the state of Missouri. As recently as 2017, Michigan represented the major point of meth busts in the country, taking over from Missouri in 2015. These stats may be a little misleading, though, because they rely on the fact that cases are reported accurately and in a timely manner. 

Summarily, cooking meth in rural areas seems to be on the decline, although this has not necessarily slowed down the rate of abuse. The rural meth labs have only been replaced by Mexican drug cartels. The government still has a major problem to focus attention and resources on, and the fight to shut down the meth epidemic in the country is still very much in play.