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FEATURE Every Man a Kingpin Scenes From Rural America’s Drug War BY KAREN OLSSON mphetamine and methamphetamine are simple molecules. Diagrammed on Apaper, amphetamine looks like a hexagon with a forked tail. Its skeleton is -_just a ring of six carbon atoms, with two more carbon atoms attached to the ring, and then a carbon and a nitrogen attached to the second of those. 1 Pencil in another carbon in the right place, and you have drawn methamphetamine.Various other stimulants look quite similar. Ephedrine, the active ingredient in herbal diet pills, differs from methamphetamine by just an oxygen atomwhile those same atoms arranged differently would give you pseu doephedrine, the active ingredient in many cold medicines. Slightly more com plicated alterations yield the drugs 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine on paper. In some cases, they can be carried out quite easily. It’s not at all hard to turn the pseudoephedrine in Sudafed into methamphetaminealso known as meth, speed, dope, crank, ice, or crystal. Over the past few years in certain areas of the country, especially the rural Midwest and West, this has become a well-known fact. Mike * learned to cook dope as many do, by helping somebody else make it, He was 22 and a business student at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls when he first tried smoking meth at his older brother’s house. He immediately started smoking it every dayat his broth er’s, in the car, or wherever the urge struck. He dropped out of school and broke up with his girlfriend of two years, \(“Last thing I wanted to do was take her down supplement the money he earned working off and on at a mobile home factory and a couple other places. Finally he began stealing anhydrous ammonia from a farmer’s co-op in a neighboring county, and he would trade the ammoniaa com mon fertilizer, and the one thing his meth supplier needed to make a batch that he couldn’t buy at a Wal-Martfor finished product. Eventually, Mike says, “I’d go with him once in awhile when he made it, and after six months of that I tried it myself.” The two became partners, bouncing from county to county with their bowls and jars and coffee filters, their ground-up Sudafed pills and lithium strips from I Hydrogen atoms, often omitted from chemists’ drawings, are .attached to most of the other atoms. * Some names have been changed for this article. Illustradons by Lance McMahan 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/11/01