08/12/2013 12:01 pm ET

Why Hasn't The 'Breaking Bad' Meth Trade Made It To The UK?


Life ain't easy for the characters on "Breaking Bad," the AMC drama that's made several million Americans seasoned experts on the high-risk crystal meth industry. But one thing's for sure: Plenty of Americans are living some version of this brutal reality without any strategic commercial breaks to catch their breath.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 439,000 past month meth users in the United States in 2011. (Hey, at least that's down from 731,000 in 2006, right?) In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 4.6 percent of Americans over age 12 have used the drug in their lifetime.

The country's apparent hankering for methamphetamine hasn’t been exported quite like rock music or Levi jeans, however. New numbers from the United Kingdom's Home Office found that methamphetamine was the least commonly used drug in 2012, with 17,000 reported uses across the pond.

Duncan Walker of the BBC recently investigated the disparity between the U.K. and its former colonies when it comes to meth use.

In the piece, the writer delves into several logistical explanations. For one, real estate in U.K. is simply less suited to the industrial-scale meth production of the likes of Walter White, he writes. According to DEA Congressional testimony, the vast majority of American meth comes from such “super labs” run by Mexican drug trafficking agencies on both sides of the border.

Walker explains that generally lower access means higher prices: A gram of crystal meth can cost £260 (about $400) in the U.K., while in America, you're looking at less than $90 for equal quantity. Across the pond, the drug is most visible in party culture –- seen out and about at nightclubs or sex parties.

In the U.S., meth has grown beyond its former base demographic of white, blue-collar Americans. According to a study by The National Association of Counties, and funded by the Department of Justice, the demographics of meth addiction have widened, with increases among women, teens and minorities. The Federal Association of Scientists also reports increase in use among college students and young professionals. Most of these initial low-intensity meth users try the drug as kind of daredevil's caffeine to stay awake at work, according to Narconon, a nonprofit "dedicated to eliminating drug abuse."

For the most part it seems Brits use meth to make partying more fun, while Americans use meth to make living more manageable. Walter White's famous blue meth made him a drug mogul in the U.S., but it probably wouldn't carry the same market power in the Queen's land.

It’s no surprise then that "Breaking Bad" never quite caught on in the U.K., hopping from FX to Channel 5USA and eventually being taken off the air in Season 3, according Slate Magazine. During its year on FX, the show reportedly yielded “consolidated ratings of around 120,000 viewers.” By comparison, 3 million Americans tuned in for the Season 5 finale last August, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

In America, "Breaking Bad" is a hit among fans and critics alike. For a lot of viewers, it's also something of a VIP pass into a shadowy American underworld they've only heard about in PSAs.

The U.K. can’t feel smug about its comparably clean drug test, though. Out-vicing the competition is an American specialty. After all, we're the world's undisputed superpower when it comes to drug consumption.

Click here for a recap of Sunday's "Breaking Bad" episode "Blood Money." (Spoiler alert!)



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