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Adam Minter

China's Growing Meth Addiction

Cheap chemicals and lonely workers are a bad combination.
Economy of scale.

Economy of scale.

Photographer: Macintosh/MCT via Getty Images

In the summer of 2013, a 50-year-old chemistry professor in the Chinese province of Xi'an apparently decided to emulate "Breaking Bad."  Teaming up with a Mr. Chen, Professor Lu (full names haven't been released) straddled between his classroom duties and a growing methamphetamine business -- at least until last week, when law enforcement swept down on the pair and their employees, seizing 128 kilograms of finished product, more than 2,000 liters of semi-finished product, and 5 million yuan in cash (approximately $806,000). As of a week ago, their sales network, which stretched across China, is no longer in operation.

Lu's was a short, spectacular run at one of China’s fastest growing business opportunities: the manufacture of methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs.