PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mike Marshall knows firsthand how hard it is to stop using meth once you start.

Marshall, a former addict who used meth for 10 years, said ” it permanently rewires the brain. When I was using, I would wake up like ‘I’m never doing that again’, and I’d go 3 months without doing it. And then one night I’d have a couple cocktails and the next thing I’d know I’d be smoking meth.”

Mike Marshall, the co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, in his office in Portland, January 2023 (KOIN)
Mike Marshall, the co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, in his office in Portland, January 2023 (KOIN)

But 15 years ago he smoked meth for the last time. Now he dedicates his life to helping other people get out of the cycle of addiction through his organization, Oregon Recovers. A lot has changed in the past 15 years — and Marshall said it’s not for the better.

“I’m active in the Crystal Meth Anonymous community. We’re all incredibly concerned because this isn’t the meth we used to use. It almost immediately creates psychosis.”

It’s also gotten significantly cheaper.

“The meth of 15 years ago was a lot more expensive. I recently intervened with a friend who had relapsed, and I said give me your stuff. And he went and he got the Hope Diamond of meth, and he put it in my palm, and he told me it was $40,” Marshall told KOIN 6 News. “Back in my day it would have been, like, $800.”

Others have also noticed there is more access to meth.

“More people are using meth,” said Dr. Amanda Risser at Central City Concern. “It’s less expensive. It’s more available.”

P2P Meth

Portland Police Bureau officials said meth in Portland is more readily available than it has been in the past.

“It’s much cheaper, and that’s just market economics. That means it’s everywhere,” said PPB Lt. Christopher Lindsey, who oversees the bureau’s Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit. “If the market is flooded, there’s probably a lot more out there and probably a lot more users.”

At some point, Lindsey said, people started making a potent form of meth using pseudoephedrine. But more recently cartels figured out a way to mass produce an equally strong meth using an older method — P2P Meth.

“At some point, we don’t know when, the Mexican cartels switched back to the P2P method,” he said.

The US Department of Justice defines P2P Meth this way: “The principal chemicals are phenyl-2-propanone, aluminum, methylamine, and mercuric chloride. This method yields lower quality dl-methamphetamine, has been associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and is commonly referred to as the P2P method.”

Other chemicals used in the P2P meth include acetone, cyanide, lye, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitrostyerence and even racing fuel.

Now nearly all the meth tested in the Portland area has been made this way, he said.

“Using P2P, they’ve started creating higher quality meth,” Lindsey said. “The meth we’re seeing brought up is — the past calendar year 2021 — the average quality was 97%.”

Dr. Risser said P2P meth “is part of the inevitable outcome from pressures to the drug supply — a trend towards higher potency that we’ve seen with most substances over the past century: opium to heroin to fentanyl, cocaine to crack, even beer to liquor during Prohibition.”

‘Cocktail of drugs’

The problems for addicts don’t stop there.

“You have this high quality meth and a massive influx and usage of fentanyl. I would have to guess the combination cocktail of drugs could be what’s fueling this erratic behavior,” he said.

Dr. Todd Korthuis, the head of addiction medicine at OHSU, said the “chemicals that make P2P methamphetamine tend to have slightly different effects.” There is more psychosis and hallucinations with it, he said.

“It just feels a little different, but the big difference is the difference in risk of mental health side effects.”

Meth Addiction Treatment and Rehab Programs
Oregon Mental Health and Substance Abuse Hotlines
Oregon Recovers
Crystal Meth Anonymous

Korthuis agrees there is more P2P meth in Oregon and it’s more potent.

“Yes, there seems to be a little bit higher prevalence of mental health side effects from the P2P meth than the older meth,” he said. “It’s probably the chemical makeup and increased potency.”

Chemicals, cartels, China

How and why is meth being pushed up the West Coast and into American cities?

  • Oregon State Police found 10 pounds of methamphetamine along with what they believe are heroin and counterfeit fentanyl pills during a traffic stop near Klamath Falls on Jan. 18, 2023. Photo courtesy Oregon State Police
  • Salem, OR investigation finds 55K fentanyl pills, 26 guns
  • Salem, OR investigation finds 55K fentanyl pills, 26 guns

“All the cartels care about is making money,” said Jacob Galvan with the US Drug Enforcement Agency. “They’re a money making machine. They’ll do whatever they need to do money. This is a good way for them to make money.”

Galvan told KOIN 6 News the chemicals that go into the meth come from China and are transported to Mexico. Once there, the cartel labs produce meth and fentanyl, then smuggle it through the southwest US border along the I-5 corridor — and eventually into the Pacific Northwest.

“It comes by train, truck, car, plane, person, any way possible it comes across the border,” he said.

But Portland is not unique in its meth problem.

“They’re targeting all the cities in the United States,” Galvan said. “What we’re seeing in Portland specific, we see consistent amounts of meth coming in, and in fentanyl we’ve seen a 2400% increase in the amount of fentanyl we’ve seized.”

What to do

Dr. Risser said she thinks we need more housing support, harm reduction services and treatments that work.

“My main concern,” she said, “is there are barriers to effective treatment.”

Mike Marshall agrees.

Mike Marshall, the co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, in his office in Portland, January 2023 (KOIN)
Mike Marshall, the co-founder and director of Oregon Recovers, in his office in Portland, January 2023 (KOIN)

“We have the second-highest addiction rate and we’re last in access to care,” he said.

But everyone can recover and it’s worth it, Marshall said.

“When you get into recovery you become a better dad, you become a better sister or brother, a better dog owner, your life improves exponentially. It doesn’t mean life isn’t hard,” he said. “But the challenges you face will be easier to navigate if you’ve gotten into recovery.”