Drug Facts – Methamphetamines


Methamphetamine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked, or ingested orally. Methamphetamine users feel a short yet intense “rush” when the drug is initially administered. The immediate effects of methamphetamine include increased activity and decreased appetite. The drug has limited medical uses for the treatment of narcolepsy, attention deficit disorders, and obesity.

Most amphetamines distributed to the black market are produced in clandestine laboratories. Methamphetamine laboratories are, by far, the most frequently encountered clandestine laboratories in the United States. The ease of clandestine synthesis, combined with tremendous profits, has resulted in significant availability of illicit methamphetamine. Large amounts of methamphetamine are also illicitly smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

Extent of Use

According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 12.6 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine at least once during their lifetimes, representing 5% of the population aged 12 or older. Approximately 850,000 (0.3%) reported past year methamphetamine use and 314,000 (0.1%) reported past month methamphetamine use.

The number of recent new users of methamphetamine among persons aged 12 or older was 95,000 in 2008. This estimate was significantly lower than the estimate in 2002 (299,000), 2003 (260,000), 2004 (318,000), 2005 (192,000), 2006 (259,000), and 2007 (157,000). The average age of new methamphetamine users aged 12 to 49 in 2008 was 19.2 years, which was not significantly different from the average ages between 2002 and 2007.

Results of the 2008 Monitoring the Future survey indicate that 1.8% of eighth graders, 2.8% of tenth graders, and 3.0% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of methamphetamine. In 2006, these percentages were 2.7%, 3.2%, and 4.4%, respectively.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveys high school students on several risk factors including drug and alcohol use. Results of the 2007 survey indicate that 4.4% of high school students reported using methamphetamine at some point in their lifetimes. This is down from 6.2% in 2005 and 7.6% in 2003.

Approximately 1.9% of college students and 6.7% of young adults (ages 19-28) surveyed in 2007 reported lifetime use of methamphetamine.

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 23.5% of State prisoners and 17.9% of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they used methamphetamine at some point in their lives.

Health Effects

Long-term methamphetamine abuse can cause addiction, anxiety, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. Additionally, psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions (such as the sensation of bugs crawling under the user’s skin) can occur. The psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after methamphetamine use has ceased.

Of an estimated 113 million emergency department (ED) visits in the U.S. during 2006, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that 1,742,887 were drug-related. DAWN data indicate that methamphetamine was involved in 79,924 ED visits.


From 1997 to 2007, the number of admissions to treatment in which methamphetamine was the primary drug of abuse increased from 53,694 in 1997 to 137,154 in 2007. Methamphetamine admissions represented 3.3% of the total drug/alcohol admissions to treatment during 1997 and 7.5% of the treatment admissions in 2007. The average age of those admitted to treatment for methamphetamine/amphetamine during 2007 was 32 years.

Arrests & Sentencing

The National Drug Intelligence Center reported 2,597 Federal methamphetamine-related arrests during 2006. This is down from 6,090 such arrests during 2006.

During FY 2008, there were 4,347 Federal defendants sentenced for methamphetamine-related charges in U.S. Courts. Approximately 97.5% of the cases involved methamphetamine trafficking and 1.4% of cases involved simple possession.

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) II program is designed to gather information on drug use and related matters from adult male offenders within 48 hours of arrest. ADAM II serves as a critical source of data for estimating trends in drug use in local areas, understanding the relationship between drugs and crime, and describing drug market activity in the adult male arrestee population in 10 U.S. sites during 2008. During 2008, the ADAM II program collected data on methamphetamine use in 9 of its 10 sites. ADAM II data indicate that methamphetamine use remains primarily a regional phenomenon. Self reported methamphetamine use is significantly higher in Sacramento, CA and Portland, OR when compared to other sites.

Production & Trafficking

Decreased domestic methamphetamine production is reducing wholesale supplies of domestically produced methamphetamine. The decreased production is a result of law enforcement pressure, public awareness campaigns and increased regulation of the sale and use of precursor and essential chemicals used in methamphetamine production. However, decreases in domestic methamphetamine production have been offset by increased production in Mexico.

Methamphetamine is easily produced in clandestine laboratories or meth labs using a variety of ingredients available in stores. The manufacturing of methamphetamine is called “cooking”. Cooking a batch of meth can be very dangerous due to the fact that the chemicals used are volatile and the by-products are very toxic. Meth labs present a danger to the meth cook, the community surrounding the lab, and the law enforcement personnel who discover the lab.

The Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system collects and analyzes data about the public health consequences (e.g., morbidity, mortality, and evacuations) of acute hazardous substance—release events. Of the 40,349 events reported to the HSEES system during January 1, 2000—June 30, 2004, a total of 1,791 (4%) were associated with illicit meth production. Meth events consistently had a higher percentage of persons with injuries than did nonmeth events. Of the 1,791 meth events, 558 (31%) resulted in a total of 947 injured persons.

Law enforcement reporting indicates that methamphetamine laboratories have been discovered on Federal lands throughout the United States. Methamphetamine laboratories often are discovered in or near caves, cabins, recreational areas, abandoned mines and private vehicles located on or adjacent to Federal lands.

State and Federal precursor chemical restrictions, combined with sustained law enforcement pressure, have reduced domestic methamphetamine production over the past several years. Reported methamphetamine laboratory seizures have decreased sharply each year since 2004; the year that states began implementing strong, retail-level sales restrictions of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine products. Moreover, in September 2006 the Federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 became effective nationwide, setting restrictions on the retail sale of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine products. This Act appears to be contributing to continued decreases in domestic methamphetamine production.

Although intelligence indicates a decrease in domestic methamphetamine production, Mexican methamphetamine distribution networks are expanding in many U.S. drug markets and have supplanted many local midlevel and retail dealers in areas of the Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, Southwest and West Central Regions of the country. Mexico is the primary source of methamphetamine within the United States and methamphetamine production in that country remains high. Moreover, large-scale production of methamphetamine has increased significantly in Canada as outlaw motorcycle gangs and Asian drug trafficking organizations expand their position with respect to methamphetamine production in Canada.


Methamphetamine is a Schedule II narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The chemicals that are used to produce methamphetamine are also controlled under the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 (MCA). This legislation broadened the controls on listed chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine, increased penalties for the trafficking and manufacturing of methamphetamine and listed chemicals, and expanded the controls of products containing the licit chemicals ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine (PPA).

Signed in October 2000, the Children’s Health Act of 2000 includes provisions dealing with methamphetamine prevention, production, enforcement, treatment and abuse.

On March 9, 2006, President Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, which includes provisions to strengthen Federal, state, and local efforts to combat the spread of methamphetamine.