From BP issue 11. Written by M.M (additional text and research E O’Mara)
Recently making a re-appearance in the UK, methamphetamine is starting to make itself known. BP investigates the drug – its effects – and the hype that surrounds its use.
If you were a heroin addict in London during 1967/68 it was likely you were either a doctor or someone in the medical profession with easy access to prescription drugs. Or, you were one of the small clique of several hundred addicts who frequented the West End, many being prescribed ‘jacks’ (diamorphine in soluble pill form), cocaine and a plethora of drugs we might only dream about today (e.g Mandrax, Drinamyl, Seconal, Dexedrine etc). These drugs were prescribed to users by a handful of well meaning, sympathetic -although some might say misguided, doctors, many of whom were based in the West End. One such doctor, now mythologized in British drug culture was Dr. John Petro. Dr Petro was the first G.P to switch his clients from cocaine to Methedrine, (the brand name for methamphetamine) as a result of a clinical preference for the latter. His colleague, Dr Christopher Swann, also switched his cocaine using patients to Methedrine, but for very different reasons. The rules governing the dispensing of cocaine to addicts were, during the late 1960′s, being tightened and this was to affect the way other doctors would prescribe at the time.
There is little doubt that some of those who were switched to Methedrine were drastically over prescribed with some patients receiving as many as 20 to 50, 25mg ampoules per day (1/2g -1 gram). It’s not hard to foresee that the massive over prescribing of amphetamines would cause problems within the drug using community and in retrospect, one can only stagger back in disbelief at the naivete or inexperience of the few doctors involved in this practice. One must remember however, that the treatment of ’addicts’ was still in its infancy and a good deal less was known about methamphetamine, which of course was liberally used by medical students under the recommendation of doctors – as they crammed for exams while working extremely long hours.
The ramifications of the sudden introduction of Methedrine ampoules were twofold. One consequence of the availability of injectable speed was that it caused a significant number of current ‘pill taking’ amphetamine users to begin injecting Methedrine ampoules, the injecting of which didn’t have the same connotations as injecting heroin. Once familiar with a needle and the injecting process, barriers to trying other drugs IV were effectively overcome, making methedrine a more realistic ‘gateway’ drug than the contentions around cannabis. While many of these IV speed users soon came to rely on barbiturates in order to come down after a binge on Methedrine, it was soon discovered that barbs could also be injected although this was a far more dangerous practice and overdose became endemic amongst the drug using population of the time, particularly in the West End. Many users were known on a first name basis by the doctors in the A&E department at Charing Cross hospital, sometimes presenting as many as 2 to 3 times a day. Barbiturates on the whole, were not made for injection and caused horrific abscesses known amongst users as ‘barb burns’.
In Soho and the West End a new ‘type of addict’ started to emerge who had never taken heroin but were experiencing very real problems with Methedrine and barbiturate dependence. The physical health of London’s users deteriorated rapidly coinciding with the increase of methamphetamine and barbiturate prescribing and the subsequent leakage onto the black market. These new drug users were more visible and a good deal harder to treat than their heroin/cocaine predecessors. Methedrine when taken in large doses and administered frequently, does little to improve the mental health of users and when combined with the disinhibiting effects of barbs, many of these patients became unruly and occasionally violent, suffering from varying degrees of drug induced psychosis. In 1968 pharmacists themselves voluntarily agreed to desist in the practice of dispensing Methedrine ampoules.
That was then, the first time that methamphetamine had darkened the doorstep of our green and pleasant land to any significant degree. It seems likely however, that it won’t be the last as anyone with their ear to the ground will no doubt be aware. Methamphetamine has reemerged, but this time entirely through the black market…In simple terms, methamphetamine is the granddaddy of the amphetamine family, being twice as strong as dextroamphetamine (e.g dexedrine), and four times the strength of ordinary amphetamine i.e Benzedrine.
If you would like to read the rest of this terrific article, click here.
- Methamphetamine Enhances Memories That Are Harder to Forget (substanceabuse.suite101.com)