One of the devastating developments in our nation’s modern addiction epidemic has been the rise of methamphetamine, and with it, the rise of meth labs. Although methamphetamine trafficking from other countries is still an issue, most of our country’s meth supply is produced locally.

The statistics about meth labs in the United States are pretty staggering. Although the number or labs that are found and busted by law enforcement has gone down slightly over recent years, the numbers are still drastically higher than they were two decades ago. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported 9,338 labs found in 2014, 12,050 in 2013, 13,441 in 2012, 13,423 in 2011, and 15,220 in 2010.

Meth Labs: A Community Health Hazard

Many people are familiar to some degree with the devastation that methamphetamine addiction can wreak on a person’s health and life, but not many fully understand the dangers that a meth lab can pose to a community. Even once a lab is busted, it can be very dangerous and expensive to clean the lab. Chemical waste from meth labs tends to get dumped into the ground, nearby lakes or rivers, forests or fields. This waste can include battery acid, toxic waste, solvents, and acidic chemicals, all of which are a biohazard for humans, wildlife, and the environment.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that making a pound of meth results in six pounds of toxic waste, that is very rarely safely disposed of. This waste can cause permanent damage to the area the meth lab was in. Even with the most sophisticated remediation, former meth labs sites are known to be toxic still months later. Chemicals can be corrosive, explosive, toxic, flammable and even radioactive, and can completely wipe out the local ecosystem.

Side Effects of Meth

The toxicity of the waste produced by cooking meth should give some indication about how dangerous it truly is. Meth acts on the body’s central nervous system, causing hyperstimulation which produces excessive quantities of neurotoxins. These chemicals completely overload the brain, and can cause key brain functions to degrade over time. This can result in psychosis and a number of other mental and physical health consequences. Side effects of meth include respiratory damage, cardiovascular issues, tooth decay, gum disease and even death.

Lack of Treatment Options Contributes to Meth Abuse

There is a strong connection between an area having a high prevalence of meth abuse with that area also lacking sufficient addiction treatment centers. This effect exists on a county and even state level. If people, especially young people, don’t have adequate options to seek treatment, they will most likely just keep on using. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that areas that are typically most affected by meth are large, rural counties with lower economic status.

Other drugs may be prevalent in urban or suburban areas, but meth and meth labs are almost always found in lower-class or poverty stricken rural areas that then to have very little access to treatment.

Here are the top 5 states for meth addiction and meth labs:

  • Indiana had 1,797 meth labs busted in 2013 alone. The state has about 3 rehabs for every 100,000 citizens, compared to the national average of 5.
  • Tennessee is a close second, with 1,616 meth labs busted in 2013. The state spends $1.6 billion on fighting meth alone, and is just now starting to ramp up treatment availability. However, the state currently has less than two drug rehabs per 100,000 citizens.
  • Missouri was formerly number one on the list, but rates have dropped since more treatment options have cropped up. The state had 1,495 meth lab busts in 2013. There are currently only 4 rehabs per 100,000 residents.
  • Meth lab busts in Ohio spiked sharply, increasing from 709 in 2012 to 1,010 labs in 2013. The state has exceptionally high abuse rates for all drugs, an only has 1.8 rehabs per 100,000 citizens.
  • Illinois had 673 meth lab busts in 2013. Even though meth use comes with sharp penalties in Illinois, the state has less than 2 rehabs per 100,000 citizens, so abuse rates are still very high.

Treatment is clearly the key to addressing addiction. Every state and county should have access to ample funding and resources to provide sufficient treatment option for all citizens who need it. As we increase the prevalence of addiction treatment centers across the country, meth addiction will reduce, and with it, the need for meth labs.