Members of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness, have told Circling the News that they have seen a recent increase in homeless people using meth.
Methamphetamine is not a new drug – and not new here. In the early 2000s, the area below the Via de las Olas bluffs was called Meth Hill.
It was easy to spot people on meth: they were generally gaunt, picked at their skin, and their teeth were destroyed – but off the drug they were still lucid and had memories. Over time, the drug destroyed the brain.
Today, there is an almost instantaneous “insanity” with meth users. No one is sure why, but an October 18 article by Sam Quinones in The Atlantic (“I Don’t Know That I Would Even Call It Meth Anymore”) explains that the “new” meth is made from synthetics.
“Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.”
Meth has changed and the article explains DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) lab chemist Joe Bozenko analyzed early meth, which was mostly made from ephedrine, a key ingredient found in decongestants, such as Sudafed.
Then, as ephedrine became more difficult to acquire, other methods of making meth developed using synthetic drugs composed of chemicals such as cyanide, lye, mercury, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and nitrostyrene. These chemicals are used in a wide variety of industries and could not be restricted by the government, such as been done with ephedrine.
This method of meth production, called P2P, produces two kinds of methamphetamine: d-methamphetamine (the stuff that makes you high) and l-methamphetamine, which makes the heart race but does little to the brain.
Bozenko said it had been difficult to separate the two, but by 2006, it had been done.
“Soon, tons of P2P meth were moving north, without any letup, and the price of meth collapsed,” Bozenko said, noting that there was more to the story than higher volume. “Ephedrine meth tended to damage people gradually, over years. With the switchover to P2P meth, that damage seemed to accelerate, especially damage to the brain.”
By 2012, according to The Atlantic article, there were massive quantities of meth flowing into Southern California – and 96 percent of the meth samples tested by DEA chemists were made using the P2P method.
Author/journalist Sam Quinones, who spoke with meth users, said they all were antisocial—and almost mute. One recovering addict told him, “I couldn’t hardly form sentences. I couldn’t laugh, smile. I couldn’t think.”
In Quinones new book, ”The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth” (in bookstores November 21), he addresses homelessness in Los Angeles and writes, “Addiction and mental illness have always been contributors to homelessness.
“Tents themselves seem to play a role in this phenomenon — tents and the new meth seem made for each other. With a tent, the user can retreat not just mentally from the world but physically.
“Encampments provide a community for users, creating the kinds of environmental cues that the USC psychologist Wendy Wood finds crucial in forming and maintaining habits. They are often places where addicts flee from treatment, where they can find approval for their meth use.
“In Los Angeles, the city’s unwillingness, or inability under judicial rulings, to remove the tents has allowed encampments to persist for weeks or months, though a recent law allows for more proactive action.”
Quinones’ article notes that discussions on homelessness and meth use rarely come up. Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell calls it “the elephant in the room”—nobody wants to talk about it, Quinones said. “There’s a desire not to stigmatize the homeless as drug users. Policy makers and advocates instead prefer to focus on L.A.’s cost of housing, which is very high but hardly relevant to people rendered psychotic and unemployable by methamphetamine.”
The Los Angeles homelessness problem has more than doubled from 2012 to 2020.
Judge Mitchell told Quinones that the most visible homelessness—people sleeping on sidewalks, or in the tents that now crowd many of the city’s neighborhoods—was clearly due to the new meth. “There was a sea change with respect to meth being the main drug of choice beginning in about 2008,” he said. Now “it’s the Number 1 drug.”
Advocates for the homeless are reluctant to speak out about the drug, because they fear help won’t be forthcoming to those on the streets.
Quinones points out, “America has made itself more vulnerable to scourges, even as those scourges grow more potent. But scourges are also an opportunity: They call on us to reexamine how we live. Until we begin to look out for the most vulnerable among us, there’s no reason to expect them to abate.”
(Editor’s note: to read the entire article, visit: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/11/the-new-meth/620174/)