When I was fifteen years old, I was into earning my own money by mowing lawns and shoveling sidewalks, even taking trash barrels out to the street on pick-up day for people. I also had a paper route so I thought I was making pretty good money at the time, back in the 1970’s. George Marquardt was doing other things to make money at fifteen years old. George Marquardt was making methamphetamine in his parents’ basement.
From a very young age, Marquardt was interested in science and chemistry at a very young age and learned his knowledge from reading science textbooks, both in English and German. George Marquardt never had any formal training as a chemist and when asked why he never went to college to be a degreed chemist, he simply responded that there wasn’t enough money in it.
In 1978 when I was shoveling sidewalks and mowing lawns, George Marquardt was being arrested for the first time for manufacturing methamphetamine. It was in prison that he learned about this new drug, well, not really new, as it has been around since the 1960’s, as a potent painkiller for cancer patients. This new drug is called Fentanyl.
George Marquadt began producing Fentanyl in and around 1989 and also became the first person in America to illegally produce the drug. A drug that is a hundred times more potent than morphine and fifty times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl, being very complex and extremely dangerous to manufacture, the DEA was looking for a highly skilled chemist in a high-tech lab. Imagine their surprise when they found that their highly skilled chemist was an overall wearing, high school dropout who taught himself the basics of chemistry from old textbooks, who built his own spectrometer, working from a basement in a small Kansas town.
By the early 1990’s, the death toll from Fentanyl users was in the hundreds within a year of the illegal manufacture of the drug. George Marquardt was arrested in 1993 after his product was linked to about 126 deaths. However, they believe his Fentanyl was responsible for a lot more than that. Marquardt had changed the molecular “fingerprint” on his drug to make it look like the Fentanyl was made in different labs by different people. After his arrest, the Fentanyl deaths had stopped and the epidemic was over.
George Marquardt was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released after doing 22 years. Even though he was branded as a serial killer by the press, a lot of people, including some in the DEA, were very impressed by his skill. Not many drug makers who work in tiny labs with lethal, unstable chemicals, live to tell about it. When asked if he would ever cook Fentanyl again, Marquardt replied, “No. Too scary. It’s too popular now.” He also added that the US will never win the war on drugs because “The way you quit is the D.E.A. or the state agencies knock you out of the business,” he said. “You don't quit on your own, because a pile of money is an exceedingly attractive sight.”