Methamphetamine Report for Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice

July 2007

Section II – Overview of the Methamphetamine Problem

1. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is chemically related to amphetamine, but its effects on the central nervous system are longer lasting and more toxic. Both of these drugs belong to a class of drugs known as stimulants.

1.1 History

Methamphetamine has been traced to the production of amphetamine in 1867 and was first synthesized in Japan in 1893. In the 1930s, amphetamines were prescribed for a wide range of medical conditions, including asthma, epilepsy, obesity, schizophrenia, narcolepsy, and hyperactivity in children. These drugs were also used in World War II to help military personnel stay awake and productive, and later by truck drivers on long-haul operations. Following the War, the use of amphetamines became epidemic in Japan, as military supplies of the drug became available on the black market. Following the tightening of regulations to reduce the supply, many people turned to illicitly produced methamphetamine.[1] At the same time, the addictive characteristics of methamphetamine were increasingly being recognized.

In the 1960s, intravenous methamphetamine became increasingly available, and concern about the increased popularity of the drug led to severe restrictions in the availability of licit methamphetamine. As a result, the market in illicit methamphetamine grew.[2] By 1975, use of methamphetamine had declined and it became a low-status drug. [3] Since the 1980s, a different and more potent form of the drug has been available.[4] This may have contributed to its re-emergence in the 1990s.[5]

Today, methamphetamine, also known as “speed,” “meth,” “chalk,” “ice,” “crystal,” “crank,” and “glass,” is easily accessible, cheap to buy, and being used in both rural and urban areas.

Methamphetamine hydrochloride comes both in the crystallized and powdered form. The chemical structure of both forms is the same. Crystal methamphetamine, however, is generally sold for a higher price as it is believed (falsely) to be more pure.

1.2 Types of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine exists in two forms: d-methamphetamine and l-methamphetamine. They are mirror images of each other, just like your right and left hand. In the 1960s. anequal mixture of the two, called d,1-methamphetamine, became popular. D,1-meth, is produced when phenyl-2-propanone (P-2-P) is the precursor. Note: Two other Class A precursors, phenylacetic acid and acetic anhydride, react to form phenyl-2-propanone, which then reacts to form d,1-methamphetamine.

D-methamphetamine (d-meth) emerged in the early 1990s in the United States. An important chemical distinction between the two drugs is that the newer d-meth uses ephedrine or pseudoephedrine as a precursor. This change produces d-meth, which is twice as strong as its predecessor, d1-meth, and easier to produce. Although d-meth is largely used today, there is evidence that d1-meth is making a comeback in Canada.7

1.3 Drug Composition and Use

Methamphetamine has a chemical structure similar to that of amphetamine, but has more pronounced effects on the central nervous system.[6] The onset and the nature of the high vary according to the route of administration but are nearly immediate and can last for up to 12 hours.[7] [8] Novice users can obtain a high by ingesting 1/8 gram (125mg) of methamphetamine, while a regular user ingests more to get this effect (250 mg). On a “run” or binge lasting several days the user may take multiple grams of methamphetamine.

Unlike many other abused drugs, methamphetamine is a neurotoxin. This means that it not only affects the release and reuptake of certain brain chemicals such as dopamine, but also damages the neural tissue within the brain. Methamphetamine exposure can damage the areas of the brain related to both cognition and memory. In some cases, even years after discontinuation of use, some brain functioning may not be fully restored to pre-methamphetamine levels. For this reason methamphetamine addiction places an individual at heightened risk of long-term cognitive and psychological problems,[9] including episodes of violent behaviour, paranoia, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Long-term use has also been associated with psychotic behaviour, including paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions.

The effects of methamphetamine, such as increased attention, decreased fatigue, increased activity, and decreased appetite, together with its low cost and variety of administration routes, make it a drug of choice for street youth and partygoers. Unlike other synthetic drugs, methamphetamine is quite simple to produce. Hundreds of recipes are available on the Internet, and the tools and chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine can be found in hardware stores and pharmacies. Producing methamphetamine as such can be done almost anywhere. There is a tremendous appeal for users, and addicts have the ability to produce their own supply – easily, quickly, and inexpensively.

While the current focus of public attention is on the use and production of methamphetamine, it should be noted that both the production and use of this drug are closely associated with other synthetic drugs. An analysis of 175 samples of chemical drugs seized from raves in 2004 in BC showed that most (54%) samples of ecstasy contained methamphetamine, usually in addition to MDMA and/or MDA. The methamphetamine in these cases had been added deliberately to enhance the effect of the ecstasy dose. A similar analysis of 165 samples seized at raves in 2005, showed that 76% of the ecstasy samples contained methamphetamine. This information, while limited, seems to suggest that cross-contamination is not only common but increasing in frequency.

2. Legislation

Methamphetamine use, production, and distribution are regulated under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA). Production, possession, trafficking for the purpose of trafficking/exportation, and importation/exportation (with certain exceptions) are illegal in Canada.

Until August 2005, methamphetamine was listed under Schedule III of the CDSA, a Schedule that carries a lower level of maximum penalties for possession, trafficking, production, importing and exporting (from three to seven years). As a result of increased concern about methamphetamine use on individuals and society, the federal Minister of Health moved methamphetamine to Schedule I of the CDSA. Under this Schedule, the maximum penalty for possession is seven years, while life imprisonment could be sought for trafficking, producing, importing/exporting, or possession for the purpose of export.

Precursors used in the manufacture of methamphetamine are also controlled by the CDSAand the Precursor Control Regulations (PCR). These regulations, which came into effect in 2003, gave tools to monitor and control the sale/provision, import, export, production, and packaging of precursors frequently used in the production of illicit drugs. As it currently exists, only licensed dealers may sell Class A precursors, such as ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (except in small amounts in pharmaceutical products), and a person found guilty of importing, exporting, or possession for the purpose of export without the proper authorization is liable to 10 years’ imprisonment for an indictable offence or 18 months’ imprisonment upon summary conviction.

Health Canada has recently amended the PCR to list red and white phosphorus along with other substances as Class A precursors. As a result of this change, a licence will be required to sell or produce red phosphorus, with permits required to import the precursor into the country.

3. Recent Initiatives

Over the past two years, various levels of government, law enforcement, industry, and citizens, have undertaken initiatives to better understand methamphetamine supply-and-demand issues and develop better approaches and initiatives relating to the use of the drug. In June 2005, the Western Ministers of Health, Justice and Public Safety met and developed recommendations to address methamphetamine problems. In November 2005, the Marijuana[10] Grow Operations Working Group of the National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime jointly developed with Federal-Provincial- Territorial Ministers a National Strategy to Combat the Production and Distribution of Marijuana and Synthetic Drugs and the Diversion of Precursor Chemicals. The National Strategy was approved by Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice in November 2005.

3.1 Western Ministers’ Meeting

In May 2005, the Western Premiers asked for a meeting between the Health and Justice Ministers to discuss strategies to address methamphetamine use. The Premiers also asked that the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Working Group on Drug Issues accelerate its work on methamphetamine and subsequently report to the meeting.

On June 10, 2005, Ministers of Health, Justice and Public Safety from the four western provinces and the three territories, as well as the Attorney General of North Dakota, met and discussed the growing problem of addictions, and in particular the increased use of methamphetamine. The FPT Working Group on Drug Issues provided an update on issues under consideration the timing of its report.

As a result of this meeting, Ministers committed themselves to:

  1. restrict the sale of products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine;
  2. hold a Western Canada clinical conference to discuss best practices in prevention and treatment; and
  3. build existing treatment programs on best practice literature.

Ministers also urged the federal government to:

  1. implement harsher penalties for methamphetamine possession and trafficking;
  2. expand legislation to create offences for possession of key precursors of methamphetamine;
  3. tighten licensing controls on precursors;
  4. commit adequate resources to enforcement of precursors controls; and
  5. develop a national methamphetamine campaign.

At a subsequent meeting of the Premiers (the Council of the Federation), in August 2005, agreement was reached on the need to prevent the spread of drugs from region to region. With respect to methamphetamine, the Premiers agreed to:

  1. develop a national awareness campaign to make young people and parents more aware of the dangers of methamphetamine and other addictive drugs;
  2. sponsor a national conference in Saskatchewan to share information on the best and most promising educational and clinical practices in the prevention and treatment of addictions; and
  3. develop strategies to better manage the sale of products containing the key ingredients in methamphetamine to reduce the use of these products in its production.

3.2 National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime - National Strategy

The National Strategy to Combat the Production and Distribution of Marijuana and Synthetic Drugs and the Diversion of Precursor Chemicals is a national law enforcement and public safety response to the importation, exportation, production and distribution of marijuana and synthetic drugs, and the diversion of precursor chemicals. It is an integral element of the overall response supporting the CDSA and municipal/provincial/territorial strategies. This approach targets marijuana and synthetic drug production and distribution operations, including the production and distribution of methamphetamine. The Strategy was approved in principle by FPT Ministers Responsible for Justice in November 2005. The strategic directions and activities of the National Strategy are supportive of efforts to address the issues identified in this paper.

The National Strategy has four strategic directions:

  • Modernizing legislation and improving its application by reviewing and updating current legislation and regulations, including the CDSA, to support effective enforcement and public safety, and by applying more effective sentencing to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
  • Strategically targeting the links to organized crime by guiding federal enforcement capacity and targeting the proceeds of crime and offence-related property. As well, strengthening the availability of tools to target criminals and to increase the risk of consequences to perpetrators.
  • Enhancing health and public safety by training first responders, implementing safety guidelines for dismantling and remediation of buildings used for production operations and by developing a comprehensive public information campaign and enhancing strong partnerships with commercial and community partners.
  • Improving information management, evaluation and research by establishing a national repository for holding/sharing data, models and best practices, maintaining annual national threat assessments, supporting research on the nature and scope of the issue, and evaluating the progress of the Strategy.

  • [1] Suwaki, H. et al. (1997). Methamphetamine Abuse in Japan: Its 45-Year History and the Current Situation. In H. Klee’s Amphethamine Misuse: International Perspectives on Current Trends.

  • [2] United Nations (2003). Ecstasy and Amphetamines: Global Survey. Vienna: Office on Drugs and Crime.

  • [3] Cook, D. (2003). Pharmacology of Methamphetamine. Lecture Notes. Edmonton, Alberta University of Alberta. September 9.

  • [4] Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use and the Addictive Drug Information Council (2003). Methamphetamine Environmental Scan Summit, Final Report. January, 6.

  • [5] Cook, supra note 2, 1.

  • [6] National Institute on Drug Abuse (2002). Research Report Series: Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction. Bethesda, MD.http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/RRMetham.pdf

  • [7] Rawson, R., Gonzales, R., and Brethen P. (2002). Treatment of Methamphetamine: An Update. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 23: 146.

  • [8] Rawson, supra note 5, 145

  • [9] Falkowski, C. (2004). Spectrum: The Journal of State Government. April.

  • [10] Although the Working Group spelled the drug as “marihuana” we have chosen to spell the drug “marijuana” to be more in line with the more common spelling of the word and to have consistency throughout the paper.

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