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Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. BLOOMBERG
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. BLOOMBERG

How one man broke bad

Before he came to Cambodia, Chris* spent years of his life as a meth cook. As hit US television series Breaking Bad ends, he talks about what it’s really like.

In Cambodia, methamphetamine has been the nation’s most popular illegal drug since 2009. Between 2010 and 2011, the UN Office of Drug Control reported a 189 per cent jump in meth pill seizures- the highest rise in the region.

Chris* manufactured kilograms of crystal meth to sell and consume in the US, before his lab was raided by police and he was sent to prison.He now lives in Cambodia.

As Breaking Bad fans chew over the finale of the show, which centres around high-school chemistry teacher turned meth-manufacturer Walter White and his former student Jesse Pinkman, Chris spoke about the grim reality of his time as a meth cook.
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I always think back and try to figure out what motivated me. I wanted to be important. I liked belonging to something and taking orders and having a set place. A place higher up in the scheme of things, but being the lieutenant always appealed to me more than being the boss.

My role in that organisation was mostly collecting money from people and intimidating people and doing stuff that the other guys wouldn’t do. When I was in the lab with the chemist, he would show me what had to be done and how each step went and that made sense, but when he tried to explain the chemistry I tuned a lot of it out.

I think that the Breaking Bad scriptwriters use the chemistry terms correctly, but I don’t know that they’re always describing what they show on camera. The Drug Enforcement Administration requested that they fudge the chemistry so they wouldn’t give tips that were too specific or helpful.

Police display the evidence of a methamphetamine bust at Siem Reap airport.
Police display the evidence of a methamphetamine bust at Siem Reap airport. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Walt claims his dope is 99 per cent pure, but there’s more to it than purity. And by the time it hit the street it would be so stepped on [cut with other products] it’d be back down to 50 per cent purity. Nobody sells pure meth because it’d be a waste of product and way more potent than people expect or need. Just because you like drinking beer, doesn’t mean that you’d like it even better if the bartender filled your glass with 190-proof grain alcohol.

If it turns blue that would be a cosmetic flaw caused by an impurity or one of the reagents, but it could still be good dope if it’s only cosmetic. People sometimes “wash” dope with solvents to purify their stuff and I’ve heard that there’s a solvent that turns it blue, but I don’t think it’s what they say [in the show].

Most drug dealers I’ve known, their first goal is to stay high and keep their habit going.

It doesn’t seem plausible that Walt would do what he does without ever trying meth. The only sensible motivation for it is addiction. To risk their freedom and their lives, to risk all that? There are better ways to make money.

It’s totally implausible that Jesse would be able to quit meth but keep cooking it.

There’s no way a heavy addict can be involved in trafficking his drug of choice everyday on a continual basis and abstain. If you’re an alcoholic and you work at a bar every day, you may be able to quit drinking for a week, but then you’re going to give in to temptation and drink one day because you’re in a bar handing people booze eight hours a day.

I’ve wasted years of my life and have done a lot of things I regret. The longer you keep it up and the higher up the ladder you go in [dealing], the more certain it is there are only a few ways out. You’re going to get busted and go to prison, and if you’re lucky you might get out before you’re old. The other way is to be killed, whether from drugs or someone else. Or you quit and that’s never easy, but it’s always possible.

As told to Bennett Murray.

*Chris spoke to 7Days under a psyudonym to protect his identity.

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