Amphetamine and methamphetamine were first formulated in Germany and Japan respectively at the close of the 1800s. A Japanese scientist was the first to create crystal methamphetamine in 1919.

Germany and Japan both dispensed methamphetamine to their troops in battle. The Germans mixed the drug with chocolate and handed it out to increase soldiers’ stamina in the field.

Japan had large stockpiles of the drug at the end of World War II and it was made available shortly after the war. In 1951, however, the health ministry banned the substance and for the first time, methamphetamine went underground as an illegal drug distributed by the notorious Yakuza.
In the United States, methamphetamine was available by prescription for a wide variety of ailments including alcoholism, narcolepsy, depression and obesity.

A desire to experience methamphetamine’s incredible “high” begat an increased demand for recreational use of the drug. Small labs began showing up, particularly on the West Coast, as “cookers” manufactured meth for their own use. Some larger-scale “super labs” increased production and the supply on the street.

A brief history:
Armies used Meth to push soldiers in WWII
Recreational use of methamphetamine climbed quietly but steadily until the mid-1980s when federal authorities in both the U.S. and Canada outlawed possession of some chemicals and equipment used to make methamphetamine. 
Instead of curbing methamphetamine use, the new rules drove labs further underground and the drug’s use actually spread from the West to the Midwest and South.

As methamphetamine use continued to grow, state and federal lawmakers passed several laws to slow its manufacture in the U.S. Progress against meth cooking was slow and spotty and its use went on largely unabated.

The biggest advance against methamphetamine manufacture came in 2005 with the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. Under the law’s terms, severe limits were placed on the purchase of the drug’s main ingredients– ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as used in cold capsules such as Sudafed. In addition, all drugs containing these key ingredients were placed behind pharmacy counters to avoid theft.

The impact of the new law was almost immediate. The number of meth labs uncovered across the U.S. dropped by about two-thirds.
As domestic labs were shut down, demand was met by offshore operations, largely in Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol methamphetamine seizures at just two major U.S.-Mexico border stations soared from 811 pounds in 2004 to 2,960 two years later. 

See graphic on changing distribution patterns

Highly-addictive crystal meth, left, was created in Japan less than 100 years ago.
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Nationwide epidemic
Nationwide epidemic