It sounds like a recipe for a bellyache: “strawberry quick” and “cheese.” Sure enough, these purported new drug fads have been giving prevention experts indigestion, but the agita is mostly over fears that overreacting officials and media could inadvertently cause a trend where none exists — and that attention on these “flavor of the month” drugs could distract from larger alcohol and other drug problems confronting youth.
In February, the Carson County (Nev.) Sheriff's Department reported seizing a quantity of what was described as strawberry-flavored methamphetamine, quickly dubbed “strawberry quick” after a container of Strawberry Quik drink mix was reportedly found at a meth lab. “Strawberry Quick is popular among new users who snort it because the flavoring can cut down on the taste. Teenagers who have been taught meth is bad may see this flavored version as less harmful,” the Nevada Department of Public Safety warned.
In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) echoed the warning, and reports spread about meth being flavored with chocolate, cola, and other flavors. In a widely circulated story in USA Today, a DEA spokesperson said the informants told drug agents that flavored meth could be found in at least nine states.
Meanwhile, around the same time the national media began picking up on the story of so-called “cheese” heroin, a mix of black-tar heroin and Tylenol PM that has become popular in the Dallas area and is linked to a number of overdose deaths among adolescents. Although local newspapers had been reporting on the mix since at least last spring, a story on “cheese” recently appeared as front-page news on CNN.com, along with warnings about the potential for the drug to spread to other communities.
“Cheese and strawberry quick are classic examples of how drug traffickers take their poisons and change the appearance, color, taste or name” to market to teens and younger children, DEA special agent Steven Robertson told the Dallas Morning News on June 15.
Reacting to these stories, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate introduced legislation that would increase penalties for people who sell flavored methamphetamine, and called for “cheese” heroin to be included in the national anti-drug media campaign.
Just one small problem: nobody is quite sure that flavored meth actually exists, and even concerned officials in Texas say there's precious little evidence that “cheese” heroin is anything but a local problem.
A Sea of Secondhand Reports
Flavored meth is somewhat akin to the Loch Ness Monster: everyone has heard of it, but firsthand sightings are hard to track down and verify. Various media reports around the U.S. have raised the alarm about the dangers of this new drug, but invariably concede that no cases have been reported locally.
A breathless report from WAVE-TV in Louisville, Ky., is illustrative: “A dangerous new form of meth is headed to the area and it's aimed at kids. It's called Strawberry Quick, but unlike the popular breakfast drink, this drug can kill,” according to reporter Shayla Reaves. “Strawberry meth looks and tastes a lot like the candy known as 'pop rocks.' It's got a strawberry flavor and scent, and it even pops in your mouth, just like the candy. While no cases have been reported in Kentucky, police say its not a matter of if it arrives, but when.”
Meanwhile, in Evansville, Ind., Kim Dacey of WFIE-TV reported, “Across the country, law enforcement are tracking a new type of methamphetamine designed for young users, and its headed for the Tri-State. The taste of this new meth is changing. Police across the country are noticing a new type of meth, made with different colors, and flavors, like strawberry. Police say its made using products you can find in any grocery store.”
The WFIE story quotes Gibson County Sheriff Allen Harmon saying, “One of the things they're using is the powdered strawberry quick mix, chocolate mix that's a powder they put in milk to make it flavored. We've been told they're using that, and melted Lifesavers.” In the next breath, however, Harmon adds that the flavored version of the drug hasn't shown up locally.
Attempts by Join Together to trace the one seemingly solid report on flavored meth back to its source have not, as of this writing, produced any clarity. Reached on Friday, the Carson County (Nev.) Sherrif's Department could not confirm whether the meth it seized was flavored or just colored.
However, both the DEA and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy told Join Together that they have not been able to identify a single confirmed seizure of flavored meth.
“There are a lot of people in prevention and law enforcement talking about it, but in terms of actual seizures we haven't seen much,” said Tom Riley, a spokesperson for ONDCP. Rojean White, a spokesperson for the DEA, told Join Together that while local DEA agents have heard stories about flavored meth from local law-enforcement colleagues, they “haven't had any” seizures themselves.
Experts say that there's a real possibility that local police are confusing colored meth — which is relatively common — with flavored meth. Tom McNamara, a meth trainer and special-projects coordinator for the Southern Illinois Drug Task Force Group, told Join Together that meth made from Sudafed or some generic versions of the drug will have a light-pink color because of the dye used in the pills. Moreover, he said, meth made from anhydrous ammonia treated with GloTell — a chemical marker designed to discourage thefts — will be bright pink. The drug also can appear greenish or blue.
“We've had that forever,” said McNamara of colored meth, whereas his inquiries about flavored meth have yielded nothing.
“The warnings are well-intended, but they have no substance,” he said.
Jeanne Cox, executive director of the Meth Project Foundation, says that while she has seen and heard the news reports about flavored meth, no firsthand accounts of the drug have come in. An inquiry on a prevention listserv run by ONDCP yielded similar results.
“We are all still trying to figure out what's going on with strawberry meth and if it really exists,” said Cox.