The new drug of choice: Methamphetamine explodes onto Minnesota scene

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — On the street they’re called “tweakers.”
At the clinic where Connie Johnson works, they’re called methamphetamine addicts, and she is seeing a whole lot more of them these days.
“They look like every ounce of life has been drained from them, and they are still walking,” said the Minneapolis drug-treatment counselor.
Methamphetamine — called meth, crystal, crank or speed — is a man-made stimulant that looks like cocaine but is made from toxic chemicals including drain cleaner. Just three years ago it was insignificant in Minnesota. It was that “West Coast” problem.
But over the past year it has crept past cocaine as the illegal drug of choice in much of the state, police say.
It threatens to become a serious problem because it’s cheaper, it’s not sold as openly, its high makes users more violent, and it’s hitting rural and suburban communities in ways that crack never did.
“It’s here and it’s big, and I think it’s bigger than cocaine,” said Tim McCormick, head of the Minneapolis office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Meth now accounts for more than half of all drugs seized by St. Paul police this year, compared with about 20 percent last year; for more than half the drugs seized by the Anoka-Hennepin Drug Task Force, and for more than half of the DEA investigations statewide.
Police in the South Metro Drug Task Force, which includes Dakota County and the cities of Burnsville, Lakeville, Eagan and Apple Valley, say it’s now rare to find cocaine when they raid a home for drugs. It’s almost always meth.
Emergency-room workers at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis see five to 10 people a week for meth-related conditions.
Statewide, the number of patients 18 and younger admitted for meth treatment went from 27 in 1996 to 80 in 1997.
Lt. Dennis Jensen of the St. Paul police narcotics unit said meth “has hit with a vengeance.”
Once known as poor man’s cocaine, meth can keep a tweaker high for 12 hours for less than the price of a couple of CDs.
Normally it’s sold in quarter-gram or gram quantities. A quarter-gram sells for about $25 in the Twin Cities.
Once the domain of motorcycle gangs, meth now is increasingly popular among girls because it helps them lose weight rapidly and among young men because its initial euphoric high is thought to make them more virile. Users also can go days without sleep.
The majority of meth in the United States is manufactured in Mexico and smuggled across the border, police say.
Federal authorities warned for years that meth would move east from California and Arizona, and it has. According to a 1996 federal study, meth arrests in Polk County, Iowa (Des Moines), now surpass drunken-driving arrests. Across Iowa, meth is cited as a contributing factor in about 80 percent of domestic-violence cases.
In Minnesota, meth already has become a multimillion-dollar business, where authorities say they’re investigating at least three other organizations operating on that scale in Minnesota.