Mason Adams Published

Podcast Examines Past And Present Of Meth In America

An illustration of various tools and items related to making the drug meth are seen on a table. There is also a gas mask on the table. Above the items are the words, "Home Cooked: A 50-Year History of Meth in America."
The Daily Yonder’s podcast series “Home Cooked.”
Courtesy of the Daily Yonder

This conversation originally aired in the June 23, 2024 episode of Inside Appalachia.

The broad strokes of the opioid epidemic are well known. 

The widespread availability of Oxycontin and other opioids that could be obtained with a prescription led to an epidemic of substance abuse that took hold across the country. That, in turn, has led to more conversations — about treatment, recovery, and harm reduction. 

But, alongside opioids, there’s been another addictive drug that became well-known in the 1990s, and never really went away. Methamphetamine, or meth, is a stimulant that some people made in their homes during the ‘90s and early ‘00s. But the U.S. cracked down on the sale of the drug’s ingredients, so meth labs are no longer quite so ubiquitous. 

But meth has evolved, too. 

That history is the topic of a new podcast, called Home Cooked. It’s produced by the Daily Yonder, a national news site that covers rural America, and is headquartered in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

The show is hosted and produced by Olivia Weeks, a reporter for the Daily Yonder based in southern Illinois. Inside Appalachia Host Mason Adams recently spoke with Weeks about Home Cooked.

A woman is seen smiling for the camera. She has long dark hair and stands outside on a sunny day. Behind her are green trees and bushes.
Olivia Weeks.

Photo Credit: The Daily Yonder

Adams: I remember meth because it exploded into the national consciousness in the early 2000s, just as I was entering the media business, but I’ve heard a bunch of meth stories recently — both in the news and from friends who are dealing with people on meth. How have methamphetamines changed over the last 20 years? 

Weeks: Yeah, so that’s sort of the starting point of the podcast. We’re all really familiar culturally with these stories from the early 2000s. I grew up in a small town. There was a lot of conversation all the time when I was a little kid about, “Oh, that’s a meth lab house. They’re cooking meth out in those woods,” — that kind of stuff. That fell off of everybody’s radar in the later 2000s and 2010s in some places, and then around 2018, you start seeing this flood of new stories that’s like, “Meth is back. And it’s not your neighbor’s cooking it anymore.” That’s a St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline that always sticks in my head, because that’s really the formula of this new kind of news article that started coming out in 2017, 2018.

Part of it is a little bit silly, because meth never disappeared in that time period between the early 2000s meth-lab-explosions era and today, but I also see why it got so much media attention starting in the late 2010s. Because a transition really happened where, over the course of the 2010s, this vast free market of drug traffickers and producers in Mexico got really good at making methamphetamine really cheaply, and it’s transporting it into the United States. That’s in a landscape of meth getting really difficult and pretty expensive to produce here domestically, that imported meth really just took over the whole national methamphetamine economy. Instead of being this sort of weird drug that people would make in their barns, and it’s very locally specific, and the recipes get passed from person to person, like it has this kind of folk culture around it in the early 2000s.

Then it really transitions into a more traditional drug that’s being trafficked along pretty traditional drug supply chains, kind of the way that cocaine is, or one of those other less mythologized drugs, or differently mythologized drugs from different eras.

Adams: Methamphetamine is associated with rural areas, and even with Appalachia, to some degree. Is that just pure myth?

Weeks: There are two questions there. One is meth’s association with rural, and one is meth’s association with Appalachia. I think the answers are pretty different. There is some real factual basis for methamphetamine’s outsized popularity in rural places, especially in the ’90s and early 2000s. Back then, meth was largely produced domestically by groups of people in the kitchen, or in the barn or whatever. When you’re producing meth in the U.S., you really want some wide open space to do that, because it’s a process that smells pretty bad, [and] you don’t want your neighbors watching you. Also, there’s this sort of association with the countryside because anhydrous ammonia, which is a farm fertilizer, is obviously much more common in agricultural places, sparser places. So people were able to steal anhydrous ammonia from farmers more easily if they lived in the country. Also, they probably had easier access to the farm supply store. So there was this real kind of rural association.

Also, the usage rates were higher for many, many years, and still I think probably are slightly higher, in rural places as compared to the rest of the U.S. now. The rural association makes sense especially in the Midwest. That’s where that sort of mom-and-pop-lab problem of the early 2000s was really concentrated. It makes sense that meth picked up that rural association; it makes progressively less sense as time goes on, especially today. It might still be true that meth is more common in rural places, but it’s really a problem in all of our major cities, too.

Now, when it comes to Appalachia, it’s interesting. I think that places on the East Coast or eastern United States always had a smaller meth problem than in the Midwest and the West. That’s for some complicated supply chain reasons. The problem was always kind of slower to take off. Now, that’s not to say that there was no meth in these places, certainly, all throughout small towns. In Appalachia, there definitely was meth in the heyday. People could get the recipe online. There was no stopping people from making it, but it didn’t quite take off in the way that it took off in the Midwest.

Adams: What accounts for that connection to Appalachia then? Is it people linking rural America and Appalachia, and lumping them together when there’s really distinct differences in this case? 

Weeks: Yeah, I think that’s part of it. There was this very popular and widely known campaign that started in Portland, Oregon, against methamphetamine that was called the Faces of Meth campaign. It was this sheriff taking pictures of people who had been arrested on meth related charges, who were looking pretty rough. He would basically put up a photo of them early in their meth use, [during] their first arrest, and then a photo of them later on in their lives when drug use or whatever lifestyle choices had taken their toll.

A lot of people don’t need me to explain it to them; the images just come to mind. There’s been really good analysis of the Faces of Meth campaign that hit on hillbilly stereotypes like toothlessness. It’s really nasty stuff, and I don’t even really want to talk about it, because I don’t think this connection actually makes any sense. But I think that those images, especially to urban people, read as, “Oh, those are hillbillies,” — even though the photos are of people from Portland, Oregon. I think those images are honestly responsible for a lot of the connection to the countryside. And I think Appalachia automatically gets lumped in with that, and it automatically hits on a hillbilly, hill people stereotype.

Adams: The podcast covers the 50-year history of meth. Where is methamphetamine in 2024? What do you think the future holds?

Weeks: We’re in a pretty scary place right now. Methamphetamine and fentanyl are both produced in really high quantities in Mexico, and those supply chains have sort of merged in some way. Some people call them twin epidemics. A lot of people have started using the term “synthetic drug crisis” because you can’t really talk about methamphetamine without talking about fentanyl, or vice versa. Overdose deaths are the highest they’ve ever been, both for fentanyl alone, both for methamphetamine alone, and for fentanyl and meth combined. Concomitant use of those drugs is really, really common.

Now, addiction has always been one of the dangers of methamphetamine. Also in the early 2000s, meth lab explosions and the interactions with toxic chemicals, that kind of thing. Those were major risks because of methamphetamine-use back in the day. Those aren’t really risks anymore. The risk today is fentanyl contamination. That’s a big problem. It’s a scary situation. At the same time, there’s been in recent decades a general turn against mass incarceration as a solution simply because it hasn’t worked and because a lot of people have been really negatively affected by that system. Right now with really high levels of homelessness and addiction and overdose, there might be a backlash against that sort of positive turn against mass incarceration. That’s kind of scary to me.

In general, people are more open-minded to strategies like harm reduction, more open-minded, trying to be more compassionate to people who use drugs. I think that’s positive. I think part of that is the opioid epidemic — that sort of stereotypical narrative of the blue collar man who got hurt at work, and then got addicted to opioids by no fault of his own, and then wound up using heroin, and on and on. That narrative that took hold of the public imagination did some good for people who use drugs, because it showed one possible way in which a person who was really easy to empathize with could wind up addicted to drugs.

I think people are more open to harm reduction, clean needles, fentanyl, test strips, that kind of thing. So that’s positive, but overwhelmingly, it’s a really scary, scary drug market right now. I think I would tell people that you’d be surprised where you can find a harm reduction organization to get involved with. Even if you live in a small town or a rural place, it’s very possible that there’s someone out there doing the work, trying to keep people alive, even while they’re in the throes of addiction. Look out for that and look out for ways to get involved.


Home Cooked is now available wherever you get your podcasts. 

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit