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The Mythical Meth Epidemic

A new report finds that the massive media hype about the horrible meth epidemic was exactly that, mostly hyperbole. This is, in fact, a repeat from every other vastly exaggerated drug crisis over the last hundred years, from reefer madness to crack babies.

The rise in methamphetamine use has provoked a barrage of misinformation and reckless policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences, increased penalties for minor offenders and major restrictions against certain medicines.

This new report, titled Methamphetamine: Fact vs. Fiction and Lessons from the Crack Hysteria, reveals the extreme stigmatization of users and dangerous policy responses that are reminiscent of the crack hysteria in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to grossly misguided laws that accelerated mass incarceration in the United States.

The report recommends that national and international policymakers review laws that harshly punish methamphetamine possession or use, invest in treatment rather than punishment, restudy the restriction of access to amphetamines for legitimate medical purposes, and stop supporting wasteful and ineffective campaigns of misinformation on methamphetamine use.

This history should have taught us by now that when the government starts hyping the latest drug “crisis” or “epidemic” — OMG! Everyone’s using ecstasy! Crack! Meth! Krokodil! — it’s almost certainly being vastly overblown to justify the latest power grab.

Comments

  1. says

    Krokodil is an amphetamine designer drug that supposedly has made some people so crazy they do things that normally people only do under the influence of tequila.

  2. says

    Krokodil is an amphetamine designer drug that supposedly has made some people so crazy they do things that normally people only do under the influence of tequila.

    Not even close. Krokodil is bathtub desomorphine, the last resort for Russian addicts who can’t find or afford any other opioid.

  3. scienceavenger says

    This is, in fact, a repeat from every other vastly exaggerated drug crisis over the last hundred years, from reefer madness to crack babies.

    Not. Even. Close. While anything an be exaggerated, the danger from meth is FAR greater than for any of its predecessors. I’ve been involved in helping meth addicts kick the habit, and it’s ugliness beyond the imagination of most upper middle class white-bread folks, unlike anything that came before it. This shit takes down just about anyone who starts using it regularly, rotting teeth and brain. Heavy users still show signs of deterioration years after being clean.

    Smoke all the weed you want. Do a line of coke if you like. But stay the fuck away from meth.

  4. scienceavenger says

    I’ll add that while I’m as pro-drug-legalization as the next thinking person, I’ve had more than one meth addict tell me that incarceration was the only thing that made them stop. Treatment would have been just one more game to play before getting the next high. Sure exploded my view of all things drug.

  5. dingojack says

    Scienceavnger – ummm the problem you’re talking about something completely different.
    Think of it like this: imagine a epidemic of smallpox breaking out in Riga. Say 100,000 cases are noted per month at the epidemic’s peak (which lasts three months). Say of those 100,000, 66,666 die (per month). Is this a terrible epidemic? Well yes. But, is this outbreak a major disaster relative to the human population as a whole….?
    Dingo

  6. brucegee1962 says

    dingojack:

    Ummm, I have no idea what you’re trying to say here. Is it that unless something a problem rises to the level of major disaster to the human population as a whole, we shouldn’t bother doing anything about it? That’s what it sounds like. I hope you realize that’s completely nuts. Even a small problem is huge if it happens to someone you know.

    Ed has offered a report that says the campaign against meth is ineffective and overblown. SA disagrees, based on personal experience, with two interesting comments. I don’t know enough about the subject to take a side, but I think SA’s experience is valid enough to at least question the study. If you dismiss his experience, I’d expect at least some form of rational argument against it.

  7. dingojack says

    What I am saying is this: knowing a couple of people who suffered terribly from a particular disease is terrible, but is it a significant indicator of a larger trend in the population as a whole?
    That is: can you eliminate selection bias?
    Dingo
    ——-
    NB: Anecdote is not necessarily evidence.

  8. cullen says

    Overblown? Possibly. But meth is an epidemic in parts of the US. I’m originally from Montana, and the both the number and effect of meth on my home state is incredibly depressing.

    Of course the media overblows things and loves a bloody lead to sell advertising and increase viewer retention, and fear sells, but the reality is that meth is a huge problem in lots of rural communities.

  9. says

    I’ve been involved in helping meth addicts kick the habit, and it’s ugliness beyond the imagination of most upper middle class white-bread folks, unlike anything that came before it. This shit takes down just about anyone who starts using it regularly, rotting teeth and brain.

    Having known several people who have used it regularly, I think you’re experiencing some serious confirmation bias. People who work with addicts, as you do, should not generalize their experience to non-addicts. A person who works with alcoholics should not come in here and declare that alcohol makes everybody a penniless wife and child abuser who lives on the street. It’s not an accurate depiction.

    Addicts are a pretty sorry lot, all around. There is no drug which addicts people instantly, and I’m near certain that there is no drug which a person cannot use regularly and remain functional. Do not conflate users with abusers.

  10. marcus says

    scienceavenger @ 7 Agreed, absolutely. Also, your statement does not even cover the personal and environmental dangers that innocent bystanders and the planet are exposed to, which are extreme. I get that Ed is actually saying that meth factories are not as ubiquitous as the the drug warriors report, but wherever they do exist they carry the possibility of catastrophe.

  11. dingojack says

    Sorry, I really don’t think I made myself really clear here.
    a) I absolutely think the Meth epidemic is serious.
    b) One has to triage problems, which is most serious, most costly and most prevalent.?
    c) One should not over estimate the seriousness of one particular cause of mortality and morbidity over another without evidence to back that up, particularly when relying only on anecdotal evidence.
    d) anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal.
    e) I absolutely take the Meth epidemic seriously.

    Dingo

  12. A Masked Avenger says

    Also, your statement does not even cover the personal and environmental dangers that innocent bystanders and the planet are exposed to, which are extreme.

    Uh, wut now? You’re suggesting that meth heads will destroy the planet?

    Yes, I’m aware of the issue of acid and iodine in the cooking waste, and of general pollutants such as packaging and other materials. But “extreme dangers to the planet”? Dramatize much?

  13. A Masked Avenger says

    * Note that legalization would reduce the environmental damage from waste, by shifting production to proper facilities that are subject to regulation concerning waste disposal, methods, etc.

  14. bmiller says

    Masked Avenger brings up a good point: Are the dangers and problems associated with use…heck ABUSE of a drug as bad as the dangers and problems associated with police state reaction to such drugs? When 25% of the Afridan American population has been cycled through prison…often albeit not exclusively due to the drug war….then the War on Drugs may be a bigger problem than the drugs. Except, of course, there is money…oodles and oodles of money…to be made from both fighting the war and from profiting from the illegality of some drugs (Google Matt Taibbi and HSBC).

    Drugs are not healthy. But neither are massive burgers, all-you-can-eat buffets, ginormous slices of cake, or financial gambling that brings down economies.

  15. D. C. Sessions says

    b) One has to triage problems, which is most serious, most costly and most prevalent.?

    I agree we should triage problems, but then you go and misrepresent triage. Both ends of the scale are appropriate here:

    Green: Does not require immediate attention, either because the problem is minor or because it will wait.
    Red: Requires immediate attention, because the consequences of delay are severe but intervention can prevent them.
    Black: Never mind — either the patient is beyond help or would require so many resources that others would suffer even more.

    Arguably, both green and black apply to why we need to back off on some parts of the so-called “war on drugs.” Which isn’t to say that there aren’t any red cases, just that the not every (currently) illegal drug is a red alert.

  16. marcus says

    @17 Point taken, was writing in a rush, had to leave for work. It was meant to be taken in a local sense, it was poorly done.
    @18 I see no use for meth to be legal. Decriminalized, regulated and treated as a personal/public health issue certainly. The other things you mention are unhealthy, but IMO, meth is poison. Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence, based on my own personal experience, but I rarely, if ever, saw anyone just “use”. They either quit or became addicts. I see your but point but to me it is like saying that suicide should be legal. It is certainly appropriate in certain cases, but I don’t think it should be unquestionably accommodated.

  17. A Masked Avenger says

    @18 I see no use for meth to be legal. Decriminalized, regulated and treated as a personal/public health issue certainly.

    Who gives a fuck whether you “see a use” for something to be legal? You speak as if it’s up to you–and indeed, as if you “seeing a use” for something is a prerequisite to its being legal.

    The other things you mention are unhealthy, but IMO, meth is poison.

    Lots of things are poisons. Interestingly, almost all of them are legal for you to purchase and ingest as much as you want.

  18. marcus says

    Okay, well you certainly win the asshole award today. Maybe you should consider cutting back on the crank a little yourself. If you think that society should facilitate people killing themselves and/or destroying their lives needlessly then you’re just an idiot. Please kindly go fuck yourself.

  19. A Masked Avenger says

    I see your but point but to me it is like saying that suicide should be legal.

    Generally speaking, it should. Leaving aside minors, or thorny debates about mental illness and freedom, and the equally thorny debate whether committing suicide is de facto proof of a mental illness, and all that.

    It is certainly appropriate in certain cases, but I don’t think it should be unquestionably accommodated.

    I actually don’t understand what “unquestionably accommodated” actually means. You mean that it’s OK to allow it, but it’s bad to do it with a smile? We should allow it, but sternly shake our fingers at anyone who does it?

  20. A Masked Avenger says

    Okay, well you certainly win the asshole award today.

    Hey, I’ll own that one. Nevertheless, anyone who discusses prohibition of X by saying, “I see no reason for X,” is revealing something deeply disturbing about their outlook. I think in this case the right medicine is two “and who the fuck are you?”s, and call me in the morning.

  21. marcus says

    @ 26 I’ve spent 40 years in and around just about every aspect of illicit drug trade of almost every type. I’ve lost friends and family to addictions of all types, seen people snort large and small fortunes up their noses and abandon all responsibility to their loved ones, seen lives ruined by minor mistakes. I lost both my parents to nicotine addiction. In that time, in my experience, the most pernicious and destructive of those addictions was the addiction to methamphetamine. I’ve never thought that people should be imprisoned for being an addict and it always seemed ridiculous in the extreme to rip a family apart because someone in the family was addicted to an illegal substance. I believe in a rational and nuanced approach to psychoactive substances. We regulate and control alcohol, tobacco and (now in my state) marijuana. I think something as destructive and addictive as meth should be stringently regulated and controlled, with an eye to helping people avoid becoming addicted and treating those that are. You may think I’m wrong and you may not care at all what I think, up to you. I believe, however, that I have earned the right to my opinion and, I would think, the right to express that opinion in an open forum.

  22. says

    Having known several people who have used it regularly, I think you’re experiencing some serious confirmation bias.

    Excuse me? How is an anecdote that differs from yours “confirmation bias?”

    Also, your anecdote doesn’t disprove his — do you really know whether those regular users you’ve met are addicted?

    As for legalization, I’m inclined to say “Forget it.” Meth isn’t even as safe as alcohol, let alone weed.

  23. says

    Are the dangers and problems associated with use…heck ABUSE of a drug as bad as the dangers and problems associated with police state reaction to such drugs?

    They’re both unacceptable dangers, so we should be trying to fight both of them, not spinelessly accepting one because the other may be a little worse. This is too important an issue to mistreat with excluded-middle fallacies and other BS.

  24. Ichthyic says

    I see no use for meth to be legal.

    A lot of long-haul truckers all around the world would likely disagree.

  25. Dunc says

    Krokodil is an amphetamine designer drug that supposedly has made some people so crazy they do things that normally people only do under the influence of tequila.

    Not even close. Krokodil is bathtub desomorphine, the last resort for Russian addicts who can’t find or afford any other opioid.

    Actually, Krokodil (aka Jessamyn Bonney) is a character in an unfinished series of “cybergoth” novels by Kim Newman (writing under the nom de plume of Jack Yeovil) based on the Games Workshop tabletop game “Dark Future”. Sort of a Mad Max meets HP Lovecraft kind of thing…

  26. says

    Is Krokodil a white crystalline substance? Will it aggregate into large clumps when it gets wet? I’m only asking because I heard that Elton John was addicted to Krokodil Rock.

  27. A Masked Avenger says

    I believe in a rational and nuanced approach to psychoactive substances.

    We can agree on that.

    We regulate and control alcohol, tobacco and (now in my state) marijuana. I think something as destructive and addictive as meth should be stringently regulated and controlled…

    I’m willing to debate the details. The outright prohibition has proven problematic on multiple levels, though. It seems we agree there too.

    You may think I’m wrong and you may not care at all what I think, up to you.

    Actually I do care what you think, and respect your experience. I suspect that your experience is a non-random subset, based on working with the worst addicts, but that doesn’t invalidate it. It just means that your input would need to be supplemented with other input.

    I believe, however, that I have earned the right to my opinion and, I would think, the right to express that opinion in an open forum.

    Absolutely!

    My nit was actually with the phrasing. Countless discussions like this elicit comments like, “I see no reason for X,” or variations. The phrasing only makes sense if you’re the decider guy–and I believe we often do reason as if we’re the ones in charge, and I think it introduces some cognitive distortions to the discussion. (For starters, it introduces the tacit assumption that the law would be implemented in the way you conceive it, including lots of details that you aren’t articulating.)

  28. coyote12 says

    The amount of pill poppers, meth heads & heroin addicts in my town has exploded in the last few years. With the meth heads actually exploding on occasion.

  29. freehand says

    Just a nit…

    marcus: If you think that society should facilitate people killing themselves and/or destroying their lives needlessly
    .
    Legalizing a substance is not necessarily facilitating its use. Look at alcohol, for instance. We have educational programs and addiction treatment programs which actually work (to a measurable degree). But during prohibition nobody could approach their doctor or minister/priest/rabbi/shaman without admitting to a federal felony. Granted the treatments were largely ineffective then, but those consequences still hold up.
    .
    If legal, we could regulate quality control. And I would like to see addiction treatments free and without legal consequences. but I suppose we would need a sane society and universal health care for that. But then we would lose our freedumbs to pay more for medical care :(

  30. leonardschneider says

    Ahh, I wouldn’t touch the crap going around these days. It’s not “meth” at all, it’s garbage, just redneck garage crank.

    Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, it was possible to get real methamphetamine. It was just another drug; your taste for it made no real difference to anyone. Me, I liked the speed, but hated cocaine… And no one cared one way or the other. It was like preferring gin over vodka: whatever, man.

    And another thing: even daily users like me and my friends never got tore up from the stuff. We never turned into the “Faces Of Meth” billboards*. That’s the puzzler: why not? I’ve got all my teeth, people routinely think I’m six or eight years younger than I am, and I’m in good health. Why aren’t me and all my friends from back then total wrecks? Sure, we knew serious tweakers, but even they didn’t look like shit. With them it was a behavioral thing: jumpy, paranoid, and always a little too worried about where the next bag was coming from.

    It probably helped that we, y’know, did things like eat and sleep and engage in hygiene. The better quality of the drug contributed, certainly: back then, you literally wouldn’t have been able to give away the garbage people are using now. And lastly, we all snorted. Nobody was smoking the stuff; it simply never occurred to us. That’s a big difference right there: back then, snort up a good sized rail and you’re fine for four to six hours. These days, glass-burners will keep hitting all damn day. We wanted the wire and feeling of durability, and the glass-burners just want the wire and the rush… So they take a few hits, in half an hour take another few hits, in another half an hour take another few hits… And on and on. All goddamn day.

    So why, these days, are so many people supposedly addicted to what is laughably called “meth?” The high sucks now — it’s a sweaty, teeth-grinding, over-tense feeling, to me it’s not really a high at all. Maybe to answer that, you have to ask: why do so many people think it’s important to have that feeling of hyper-alertness? (Especially in rural areas, where there’s nothing to fuckin’ stay awake for? You’d think Montana would be awash in Valium and heroin… Anything to numb you out, so you’re not so aware of the dull passage of time.) I can’t give you a good answer, beyond the mild rush from smoking… And compared to rock cocaine, the rush ain’t shit. Well, and meth can keep you interested in a task for quite a long time. We used to play marathon tabletop RPGs, pausing only to run to the store for more Dr. Pepper and Chips Ahoy! cookies.

    So how did I quit? It was easy: I moved. I went from San Diego to San Francisco, armed with what stuff fit in my 1969 Galaxie and two grams of speed. When the two grams were gone, that was it. I knew some people in SF already, and could have found a connection easily enough… But I didn’t care. I had a whole town to explore, why would I waste time tracking down drugs? I was having too much fun, and what speed I had with me was slowly tapered down off of, so I never crashed off at all. It was just finally gone one day, and oh well.

    I should also mention: I referred to myself as a daily user above; that was pretty much true… But I’d also take time off. I’d simply get bored: a feeling of, “This is getting dull,” and not touch it for a few days, or a week, or a month. I’d have a sixteenth bag sitting in my sock drawer and not care, I’d ignore it completely until I felt like getting a wire on again. (And kicking was NOT the misery some make it out to be. You spend maybe five or seven days readjusting to a normal sleep schedule, the concept of “food” becomes more urgent — basically you have the munchies — and your energy level is lower for those five-seven days. I’d go through lots of Mountain Dew and Snickers bars while I came off, and be fine after that.)

    So I don’t have an answer as to why there’s more people using speed than there used to be, but I know why it’s fucking them up so bad: Like I said up top, the product these days is garbage. It’s a hellish toxic chemical brew with Christ-knows-what in it. Nasty, evil crap. That, and the preference for smoking can’t help. It’d be bad enough eating or snorting the shit, but instead you’re gonna inhale the fumes from it in huge gulps? Makes huffing spray paint look healthy by comparison.

    The attitude towards using is different, too. As I mentioned before, me and my friends ate, and slept, and showered, and brushed our teeth, and the other things normal people do for health and hygiene. I was usually in bed by 1 a.m. every day, with the alarm set for eight. Okay, only seven hours sleep, but I was young, and I was sleeping. I knew if I did a rail past a certain time, I wouldn’t get to sleep… So, I didn’t. Me and my friends couldn’t conceive of purposely going without sleep, food, etc. “Why the hell would anyone do that to themselves?” We’d leave that idiocy up to the tweaks. Sometimes we’d stay up all night and keep going, like if there was a big party, or we got involved in one of our RPGs… But we’d save that for the weekends, not when we had to work.

    All that’s out the window these days, it seems. The tweakers will go on runs until they run out of drugs, money for drugs, and things to sell for money for drugs. The town just down the road from me is infamous for being chock full o’ tweaks: hang around the gas station for a little while and you’ll have some dude trying to sell you part of a stereo. Wait a little while longer and some scary hagged-out woman will offer to blow you for ten bucks. (Although I understand they’ll usually cut out the middleman and blow their dealer. That’s how dumb the dealers are there: they’ll go for it. You can’t pay your rent by getting your dick sucked.)

    I think that’s the gist, and why people get so wrecked by “meth” these days. No food, no sleep, rare hygiene… Just speed, and more speed. What an idiot way to live.

  31. leonardschneider says

    * Whenever I see the “Faces of Meth” billboards, I always have the urge to paint over the word ‘Meth’ and replace it with ‘Royal Gate Vodka.’ Let’s’ face it, some people are going to destroy their lives with one substance or another; it really doesn’t matter what it is.

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