Methamphetamine has a fearsome reputation as a destroyer of families. Meth binges, which produce a sense of euphoria, may last a week; the severe paranoia and depression that come afterward persist for days or weeks, making it difficult to hold a job or take care of children. By comparison, cocaine binges rarely last more than three days.

The meth problem grew out of addiction to over-the-counter remedies available since the 1930s for the treatment of asthma, narcolepsy and other ailments. These products, which were based on amphetamine and its sister drug, the more potent methamphetamine, could also be used for staying awake and suppressing appetite, a boon to truck drivers, students and people wanting to keep the pounds off.