TV’s most popular meth cook, Walter White from the AMC series, Breaking Bad has had lasting effects on the real-life Mexican drug cartels. Breaking Bad chronicles the exploits of White, a high school chemistry teacher-turned drug lord, with an ingenious recipe for ultrapure methamphetamine.
One of the most prevalent criticisms of the series was White’s emphasis on the purity of his meth. Critics argued that addicts don’t care about drug purity; they simply want to get high. Well, it would seem the Mexican drug cartels agree with White. Since the series began, cartel meth purity has skyrocketed.
According to the Dallas Morning News, “[Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)] records reviewed by The Associated Press show that the amount of seized meth jumped from slightly more than 4,000 pounds in 2007, to more than 16,000 pounds in 2013.” Breaking Bad first aired in Jan. 2008 and came to a close this past September. During that same period, “the purity of Mexican meth shot up [as well], from 39 percent in 2007 to 88 percent by 2011, The price fell 69 percent, tumbling from $290 per pure gram to less than $90,” explained the Dallas Morning News.
Initially in the show, White uses the real-life technique of transforming Sudafed, an over-the-counter decongestant, into meth. Because this is a well-known technique of meth cooks, the DEA closely monitors Sudafed purchases, and thus Sudafed acts as a bottleneck for would-be meth cooks.
As White invests himself deeper into the drug business, however, he refines a process to synthesize the drug from the ground up: the P2P formula. In reality, White’s method of choice largely died out in the late 70s when methylamine became a watched drug precursor chemical by the DEA. Recently, however, the cartels have re-established this method in their labs with no clear explanation as to why.
“In the third quarter of 2011, 85 percent of lab samples taken from U.S. meth seizures came from the P2P process—up from 50 percent a little more than a year earlier, said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne,” claimed the Dallas Morning News.
The P2P process receives its namesake from the phenyl-2-propanone compound. Just like Sudafed, P2P shares the same basic shape as methamphetamine. According to William Herkewitz of Popular Mechanics, “like a skeleton key, [P2P] is a circular carbon loop (called a phenyl ring) with a short carbon neck bonded to a few teeth of clustered chemical groups. To turn P2P into meth, you just have to change the teeth.”
Both in reality and on the show, the DEA is well aware of this process and closely monitors the P2P compound. On Breaking Bad, White switches the teeth on the molecular key by making the compound react with methylamine, which is where the “meth” part of methamphetamine gets its name.
In the show, White’s designer meth is infamous for its blue tint which is meant to signify a higher quality product than meth’s typical glassy appearance. In reality, this is not true. “The color is also really odd,” Jonathan Parkinson, an analytical chemist and blogger told Popular Mechanics, “particularly because there aren’t any impurities in the P2P process that would make it blue.”
Methamphetamine is colorless, odorless and resembles glass fragments or crystals of various sizes. According to USA Today, “Mexican meth [has recently been produced with a] clearer, glassier appearance than more crudely produced formulas and often resembles ice fragments, usually with a clear or bluish-white color.”
While it is still unknown if there is a specific reason as to why Mexican manufactured meth is increasingly tinted blue, there has been speculation that meth chemists have been imitating Breaking Bad with the use of blue food coloring in their product.
The show is no stranger to spurring real-life drug controversy. The Associated Press reported that a New Mexico candy store called The Candy Lady is selling bags of crushed light blue rock candy, citing Breaking Bad as the source of inspiration. Locals are concerned with the message this is sending the youth of the area. “Meth is a terrible thing, not something that’s a joke,” Albuquerque Meth Unit detective Brian Sallee told The Daily Meal. “Kids could think actual meth is just candy, and that could lead to deadly consequences.”
Breaking Bad has been criticized for glorifying meth and praised for displaying the hardships of those living on the margins of society. Regardless, it is clear that the long term effects of the show bringing methamphetamine into the public eye will resonate with the drug industry for years to come.