If there’s one thing we Americans can depend on for a giggle, it’s tweakers. Users of methamphetamine routinely deliver in the physical comedy department, whether they want to or not. They are to rural America what crackheads are to the inner city: scrawny screw-ups whose chronic inability to make a good decision leads to all kinds of madcap adventures.
Setting themselves on fire is an oldie but a goodie. A story recently came across the Associated Press wire talking about bumpkins armed with bottles using the new “shake and bake” meth-cooking method to fry their nervous systems and their torsos.
The new method is great for your average tweaker because it’s fast, it’s portable, and it can be used on a relatively small amount of pseudoephedrine to deliver a modest quantity of methamphetamine at the end of the process. The entire process is carried out in a single plastic bottle (watchers of AMC’s superb Breaking Bad know that the old-school meth-cooking methods involved more serious lab setups) where the tweaker chucks in a number of toxic, caustic, and dangerous chemicals, shakes to combine them, then soon enjoys a delightful dose of the innocuous drug meth.
Problem is, this reaction is what we in the biz refer to as “exothermic,” which means it generates heat. Lots of heat. Enough heat (and pressure) to cause the cheap plastic bottles used to pop their tops and spout boiling caustic crap all over the “cook” who is doing the process.[pullquote]It’s expensive to take Toothless Crystal Jim and replace 20 percent of his skin, especially since, strangely enough, most tweakers don’t carry health insurance.[/pullquote]
Turns out, that hurts. Burns, even. You not only get physical burns from the heat, but as an added bonus, you get chemical burns from the noxious crud you’re using to cook “” things like lithium and sodium hydroxide, neither of which is your friend, not once it gets on your skin.
A secondary effect of all these burnt bumpkins is that burn units are being overwhelmed. It’s expensive to take Toothless Crystal Jim and replace 20 percent of his skin, especially since, strangely enough, most tweakers don’t carry health insurance.
I know; weird, right?
Nor is this a new story. In fact, as I recall, it was one of the stories bandied about to warn about why it was we had to remove Sudafed from the shelves (Sudafed is the brand name for the most popular maker of pseudoephedrine, and a lifesaver for people like me with allergy and sinus problems) and make it so that every time my nose started to run, I had to go and sign some form and endure the pharmacy staff looking at my long hair and assuming I was some kind of dangerous tweaker addict.
Back then, it was the big-scale labs that were blowing up and badly burning anyone inside. Those tweakers, besides seldom being properly trained chemists, also used inferior household supplies instead of proper, lab-rated gear.
That’s fine, sometimes, but when it comes to glassware, you simply can’t cut corners. If it ain’t Pyrex or Vycor or some decent generic equivalent, you gonna blow up. Eventually. Spectacularly. And they did. Frequently.
Whole labs would go up in flames. Cooks would stagger out to collapse on the grass outside their single-wide chemistry kits, gone from cooking to cooked. Then, as now, those uninsured, toasted tweakers overwhelmed burn units and shut many down due to the cost of treating freeloading freaks.
The promise from the politicians (or the implied promise) was that this, along with many of our other meth problems, would go away if only we’d get rid of easy access to pseudoephedrine.
But that hasn’t happened. Instead, now users simply use low-level hustlers to get their Sudafed, paying well above retail prices for boxes of the drug, which encourages even nonusers to score Sudafed for nefarious purposes. And, again, it has helped drive innovation, just as happened in the ’80s when the original precursor drugs were banned and cooks switched to pseudoephedrine- and ephedrine-based recipes from their old-school, phenylacetone-based techniques.
None of which really matters. The pertinent bit here is that while someone getting scalded may not be funny per se, the self-destructive depths to which a meth addict will sink to feed his habit kind of are. Assuming you’re into dark comedy, which, clearly, I am.