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'Breaking Bad' May As Well Be Set in China

The more I watch the show, the more I realize that it could easily be transplanted to the People's Republic and largely be the same thing. And possibly, even better.
January 2, 2013, 6:10pm

It was in China that I was introduced to meth.

I mean, it was thanks to Beijing's pirated DVD shops that I first saw Breaking Bad, or as my dealer knew it, 绝命毒师 jué mìng dú shī (“deadly drug master”).

Since returning to the US and a Netflix account, I've been able to partake in the ugly, tangled moral struggles of Walter White under more legal circumstances. It turns out that Breaking Bad is a great way to get reacclimated to America after five years of living abroad--the show serves as a solid document of suburban, post-recession American desperation if I've ever seen one.


But I haven't been able to get China out of my head. In fact, the more I've watched, the more I've realized that the show could easily be transplanted to the People's Republic and largely be the same thing. And possibly, even better.

If you’ve ever seen the show, you probably know that most of the meth in the US comes from Mexico. China doesn't get mentioned there, nor in much of the press reporting on the US drug war. But to get the massive quantities of the dozens of industrial chemicals needed to cook the stuff, Mexican drug manufacturers turn to the country where most everything else seems to be made.

Records of large drug busts involving meth in recent years--an increasingly common occurrence--tend to show a trail that leads back to China. Last January, the Mexican navy announced that a single bust had yielded 195 tons of meth chemicals in a Chinese shipment, following a six-week period that netted an additional 900 tons of precursor chemicals. In April, three tons of methylamine chloride, a chemical used in pharmaceuticals and pesticides, was found at LAX in a shipment from China; it was on its way to Mexico, where it was bound to be cooked into $40 million of methamphetamine for American consumers. The list gets longer.

American officials now estimate that 80 percent of the meth consumed in the US is Mexican-made--with ingredients from China. “The rising threat of new synthetic drugs requires a truly international response, and we look forward to extending our cooperative work with China to address the dangers that these substances pose to the citizens of both our countries," Berit Hallberg, a spokesman for the White House’s drug czar, said in a statement to Stars and Stripes. James Rendon, the Coast Guard Rear Admiral in charge of the DoD's Joint Interagency Task Force West, described the meth-from-China problem more simply: “It is a big problem, and it is getting bigger.”

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