I've been thinking about posting on this topic for some time, but never got around to doing it properly. Rather than procrastinate, I'll be derivative. The issue: Methamphetamines.
Talk Left has this post on the topic, and exhaustive background is available at Wikipedia. This drug is the latest battleground in the drug wars. It is, according to our guardians of civic virtue the WORST. DRUG. EVER. followed closely by that other evil scourge, marijuana.
Except, that it isn't. Methamphetamines are very close cousins of amphetamines. Indeed, when you take meth, your body makes amphetamines and a very little something extra. We give amphetamines to school kids who are hyper and can't concentrate, under the trade name Ritalin, and they can concentrate and go on to be productive citizens (this is controversial, but I don't think anyone in that debate is claiming that Ritalin is turning them into manical monsters). We give it to soldiers getting ready to go out on the battlefield and pilots getting ready to fly combat missions. It was invented to reduce appetite and it does do that. It keeps one awake in a manner not all that different from caffine. Methampetamine is also a central nervous system stimulant and as recently as the 1950s had many accepted medical uses. Like most drugs, in moderate doses it can affect people in ways that are not socially destructive, not especially prone to causing out of control dependency that destroys users lives, and at times, is an appropriate therapy for people whose body chemistry is slightly out of wack, something far more common than many people realize.
I suspect that a significant force behind rising meth use (and there is real doubt that it even is rising) that you have people who are not connected with the respectable medical establishment who are self-medicating. In all likelihood, many uses, if they had health insurance and an upper middle class outlook, could be prescribed drugs that heal that ailments they try to address with meth.
This isn't to say that the prevailing culture of illegal methamphetamine use is a good thing. I don't think that even the most diehard proponent of drug legalization thinks that it is desirable to have lay people making meth in home labs, as they often do now, as it produces some seriously toxic chemicals and not infrequently leads to devistating explosions. Manufacturing drugs is one of those things one shouldn't try at home. Like a great many drugs that have legitimate medical uses, it is something that when used inappropriately can cause addition and some people are predisposed towards becoming addicted to it. Hard core addicts use doses that no doctor would ever prescribe for any purpose, to their own detriment, and often use drugs that are impure and expose them to a variety of risks due to that impurity.
Also, of course, black markets, no matter what is sold, are bad for the neighborhood where they are conducted, routinely producing all manner of violence and anti-social conduct as participants gird themselves against police busts and try to keep people honoring their contracts without courts to adjudicate the matter. Any form of vice (i.e. crime consisting of commerce without out an obvious victim in the transaction itself), almost always leads to organized criminal enterprises that often conduct activities well beyond their primary money generators, unsavory characters armed with guns providing security for the operations, sharp dealing, intimidation of potential witnesses, and a law enforcement mindset that is prone to using extreme methods to stop it because they don't receive the kind of citizen cooperation that they benefit from when investigating other kinds of crime. Black markets also routinely feature prices far higher than legitimate markets, thus pushing people who want to products offered there to resort to illegal means, or simply legal but extremely unwise extremes, in order to be able to afford them.
But, rather than being the worst drug ever, there is good reason to believe that a public health and regulation orientation, similar to that which this country has taken with alcohol and tobacco, along with a health care system that pays more attention to mental health, so that people don't feel an urgent need to self-medicate, may be effective than the current war on drugs mentality that tries to demonize the drug. Nancy Reagan's exhortations to the contrary notwithstanding, a sensible drug abuse problem policy is not a simple matter.