Tracking origins of super-powered meth as overdoses rise in Pennsylvania

"What we're seeing is very pure crystal meth that is coming from south of the border. It is very inexpensive," said DA Steele.
HORSHAM, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "Chasing the dragon" is the term addicts use to describe seeking that next high. Authorities are seeing more and more of that with methamphetamine.

They fear this powerful and dangerous drug could lead to a new wave of addiction and a public health hazard.

Allentown native Ghassan Dawoud runs a successful construction company. He has a fiancé and two children, and he has been off drugs since January 13, 2018.

"I get up every day and realize I have a chance at life. Five years ago I didn't think I had that chance. Six years ago I didn't want that chance," said Dawoud.

Dawoud, abandoned by his father and torn from his mother, spent his childhood bouncing around foster homes.



He abused a variety of substances as he tried to deal with his anguish. Then he tried meth.

"Crystal meth was just a whole lot cheaper...a high just lasted longer. It did just about everything I wanted it to do. It numbed all of the feelings and emotions. It took away all of the negative thoughts," said Dawoud.

In a country that is still recovering from an opioid crisis, law enforcers are starting to see the emergence of super-powered versions of meth. They believe 95% of it is produced in "super labs" in Mexico.

Dealers find the psychostimulant more profitable and easier to distribute. Users are getting a quicker, more robust high. And that potency is killing people.

"What we're seeing is very pure crystal meth that is coming from south of the border. It is very inexpensive, it is very pure, and it is very deadly," said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.

Steele points out that Narcan, which is used to revive people from opioids, is not an option with meth.

EMBED More News Videos

Recovering addict shares his story with Action News' Matt O'Donnell



"If somebody is high and overdoses on that, that's not going to help them," said Steele.

NMS Labs, a private company in Montgomery County, analyzes drug samples from crime scenes, drug seizures and drug overdoses across the country. And because of the mass of data it accumulates, it allows NMS Labs to see trends in the substance abuse problem that may not necessarily be apparent.

The American Medical Association says deaths from psychostimulants like meth increased by 250% between 2008 and 2015.

NMS Labs saw meth overdoses in Pennsylvania surge higher after the COVID pandemic began. Lab founder Barry Logan says the state is seeing between 60-100 meth deaths per month.

There is also a public danger here.

"With more prolonged use, it can turn into paranoia, which often leads to violence or more aggressive kinds of behavior that obviously impacts other people," said Logan.

SEE ALSO: Drug ring operating in Philadelphia region busted; 83 pounds of meth seized
EMBED More News Videos

A drug operation that stretched from Los Angeles to the Philadelphia region has been broken up, resulting in multiple arrests.



Dawoud credits Montgomery County's drug treatment court, led by Judge Steven O'Neil, and the specialists at Pro-Act, a recovery center in Norristown, with saving his life.

"This is a way better high. I'm still chasing the high, but this is my high. My high is success," he said.

Dawoud says he fights his addiction every day. He admits he cannot fight it alone and wonders if that may be the key to cutting off the endless supply of drugs -- by treating the addict and reducing the demand.
Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.