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Czech Meth: Is “Breaking Bad” Accurate?

September 7, 2012

In the fifth and final season of the American television show, Breaking Bad, its protagonist Walter White made the move to expand his “meth empire” across the Atlantic to Europe. AMC’s Breaking Bad is centered on a middle-aged high school chemistry teacher who lives in New Mexico. Walter or “Heisenberg” (his alter ego named after German physicist Werner Heisenberg) is struck with stage IV lung cancer and in order to pay medical bills and to provide for his family, Walter secretly decides to cook and sell methamphetamine. Now in its fifth season, the show has seen many twists and turns, but what is interesting is Walt’s decision to export meth to the Czech Republic. His business accomplice claims the Czech Republic is the largest producer and user of meth in Europe. In reality, her claims are true.

Traditionally, meth has not been a widely used drug in Europe. According to the New York Times, Czech authorities seized 19 meth production labs in 2000; by 2006 the number had jumped to 416. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, located in Lisbon, Portugal, claimed Czech authorities seized 434 labs in 2008 and 342 in 2009, a slight decrease believed to have been brought on by increased public awareness and increased law enforcement activity. Other European countries (Slovakia, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland) all saw increased meth production in 2009 from previous years. In total, Europe produces and consumes far less of the drug than North America or East Asia, but the production and consumption has increased in the past 10 years, especially in the Czech Republic.

Researchers believe meth production is centered in the Czech Republic because of the legacy of communism. According to the 2007 Journal of Drug Issues, Tomas Zabransky argues that the communist regimes thwarted illicit drugs from crossing the borders from the West to the East. It is believed that during these communist years some drug users began manufacturing their own drugs “in-home” for personal use. When the Iron Curtain fell, borders opened as did markets, and drug production became profitable. Meth became a business and criminal organizations began manufacturing the product for distribution. This may explain the rise in meth lab seizures across the Czech Republic and across several parts of Europe since 2000. Though European meth production is far behind other parts of the world, the EU, the Czech Republic government, and the US DEA have all taken notice. Perhaps there is a “Heisenberg” operating somewhere in the Czech underground.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. trillian permalink
    September 3, 2013 5:41 pm

    Lemme just add my 2 cents here. Growing up as a teenaged and young adult in Budapest, Hungary (quite closely liased with Czechoslovakia) drug usage was “non-existant” in communism, until 1989. That is, according to the police and political leadership. The chosen few who got to travel to the west smuggled small to larger quantities in, but people were extremely cautious in use, thus in the rare cases the police found anything they would often choose to turn their heads: many times they did not even have a clue what the stuff was, or how to even find out what it was. Nor did they have any equipment or legal expertise to work with this.
    There certainly was the paint thinner sniffing thing but it was treated as the “institute kids problem” and it largely was that. Not something present in the press or the news.

    The drug topic was simply off the table. For most people as well – alcoholism was number one.

    Then, after 1990 this rapidly changed with the police having to chase upon drugs and dealers but they were still not too keen on the topic. Especially marijuana was not treated roughly or searched for at all. I went to countless “underground parties” and pubs known for a type of crowd where you would openly smoke weed – and do all kinds of other stuff – the whole time and the police never showed up. Like ever.
    (This is different now, but it was like that for at least 10 years. They just wouldn’t bother.)

    As of the drugs, meth did exist in the Czech Republic but it was quite marginal; the most popular stuff was definitely MDMA and speed, everyone would do those, just like everyone would do weed. Hashish was the hard to get – but everyone wants it kinda thing, and a lot of people like myself chose the more psychoactive, less “happy party” stuff like mushrooms and LSD, LSD was very easy to get for some reason, but we loved it. A small circle of people would do cocain (actors, rich people, yuppies) and heroin (lost souls from very different backgrounds). Meth never turned up in Hungary and was a bit easier to get in Czechoslovakia but the statement about it being a “huge market” is, I feel, pretty much off.

    Meth is still not that popular in Europe, designer stuff is taking over. Cannabis use is becoming a lot more accepted (socially, not legally). But ex-communist countries are still the greatest on drinking and tobacco, that’s how the culture is.

  2. Walter White permalink
    September 5, 2013 8:18 am

    The words, “huge market” are never used in the article nor is this implied. The argument, backed by scientific evidence, is the Czech Republic has seen an increase in the usage of meth, a drug not typically seen in Europe. Breaking Bad made this argument, and it happens to be true. You may “feel” it’s wrong, but “feelings” aren’t empirical evidence. Meth usage in this region has increased since communism fell.

  3. Markas permalink
    September 25, 2013 7:31 am

    It’s no secret that plenty of meth is made in Poland and Lithuania, and it is no secret that it often goes to Sweden and especially in the last few years, since possession of a few grams of meth is a misdemeanor, plenty has been moving to Czech Republic, where it is rumored to sell quickly… in quantities of 10 kilos at a time.

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