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Meth “Epidemic” Overhyped?

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Recently I read the cover story in Newsweek sensationalizing the spread of meth across the country. Publications that should know better have done a terrible job covering the issue, many calling it an “epidemic”.

For more on that see Slate’s good piece on the topic of why drug reporting is, as usual, awful. Jack Shafer is consistently asking the good hard questions about reporting on meth. Or check out blogs about the effects of frantic legislators fighting the so-called drug war.

Unlike most readers I’m well familiar with this “epidemic”, having covered it about 10 years ago in Hemet, Southern California, in a region law enforcement and media referred to when I was there as “the meth capital of the world”.

When I hear the word “meth” my mind instantly flashes back to the most terrible, fascinating, tragic, mind-blowing and mesmerizing – all at once – court testimony I ever saw and the articles I wrote about it, for a newspaper and an on-line publication. It was even more disturbing than covering the sentencing of a serial killer while sandwiched between parents of the victims of his killings.

Sure, I was enjoying writing about the political rise of Sonny Bono. But I was quickly becoming a hardened reporter – maybe too hard, I now think sometimes – after routinely covering fatal car accidents and writing about a woman stabbing to death her kids and then blaming her ex-husband for the crimes (something the media almost fell for).

No, the trial that sticks with me is the one in which a mom cooked meth at her house. The house burned down, killing three children. I believe I was told – and may have mentioned it in this article I wrote at the time – it was the first time murder charges were filed regarding a meth lab.

The woman calmly described the steps she took to make the meth, describing it in such detail that as I watched the reporters, jurors and lawyers take notes I thought whether any of us could then go home and make it herself.

Indeed I later learned her testimony was shown to law enforcement as yet another recipe for making the drug whose popularity is partially sparked with how easy it is to manufacture.

It was before lunch, I remember, that her surviving son took the stand. He did what I’m sure the prosecutors hoped he would not do – he looked at his mom. The mom who killed three siblings. And then he lied.

It was heart-breaking to watch. The prosecutor walked the boy through contradictions between earlier statements and his current testimony. A lunch break was called and burgers were fetched for the boys. I’d lost my appetite.

After lunch the boy told the truth and you could read the confusion in his face as he spoke, torn between a son’s loyalty to his mom and his need to not lie.

His mother – later convicted – took the odd defense strategy of saying she could not be responsible for the fire because of how carefully, how meticulously, she prepared the drugs.

But it was the son’s testimony that stayed with me. It encapsulated crime reporting in a nutshell – a personal encounter with the best and worst of humanity, but more the latter than the former.

Is meth a terrible drug? Of course.

But is it a new epidemic? Nope.

Just ask Jimmy James.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • http://the-riotact.com johnboy

    You’re talking about a drug which is issued to the US armed forces without prescription.

    if it is such a demon we should all be very worried.

  • http://N/A Kirk Muse

    Throwing more and more money at our drug problem is not the answer. We
    have been doing this for more than 35 years. The net results are that
    illegal drugs are just as available today as they were in 1969. The
    only thing that changes is the name of the evil drug du jure.

    Today the evil drug du jure is meth. A few years ago it was crack
    cocaine and before that something else.

    I’d like to add that in 1969 the U.S. federal drug enforcement budget
    was $65 million. Last year it was $19.2 billion. (These figures don’t
    include the cost of incarceration nor the state and local costs).

    The $19.2 billion is greater than a 29,500 percent increase. If the
    price of coffee which sold for 25 cents a cup in 1969 had increased at
    the same rate, we would now be paying almost $75 for a cup of coffee.
    More than $75 with sales tax.

    Drug task forces are just government bureaucracies. And like all
    government bureaucracies–guaranteed to expand. Why? Because heads of the bureaucracies get paid in direct proportion to how many employees work under them, not according to how well they perform.

    One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again
    and expecting a different result. It’s also a good definition of
    stupidity.

    Our nation’s drug policy has been both insane and stupid. It’s time to
    do something different–substantially different.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    What do you propose be done as an alternative?

  • http://ezsgblog.com/vtdawson/index.php Bennett

    Thanks for that, Kirk! So horribly sad, to spend that kind of money and end up in the same place.

    Meth has been around since I was a kid. Speed, crank, whatever you call it, it turns one into a pretty mean bastard after a short while.

    I understand having it available for troops however. There are times when delaying fatigue may keep you and your mates alive to fight another day.

    But it also could be abused and you end up with hyped up assholes beating some detainee to death…

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Johnboy, that’s not quite true. Amphetamines are given to some in the armed forces. Mostly pilots, if I recall correctly.

    But that is not the same drug.

    Scott your post seems to say it is not overhyped, merely that it is not “new.” On that I can agree having done extensive reporting myself in two different states. Everyone thinks they’re the meth capital of the world, but so much of this drug and its effects are hidden.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    There’s conflicting reports on where the meth capital actually is.

    As this piece says,
    link
    it was considered by some to be the area where I did my early reporting gigs in so. cal
    but that was 10 years ago.

    Jack Shafer at Slate has done some excellent reporting on this issue:
    link

    (Is there a way to do links in the comments box?)

    [Editor: yes, by typing the html code.]

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Same way you do links on your blog.

    My point was, there has ever been a “meth capital of the world”

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Well, it depends how you define the term. If you define as law enforcement did as in the place where more meth is consumed and used than elsewhere in the world.

    If you mean, is meth a real capitol with legislators and flags and such, I’d have to say, no.

  • http://www.victoryoutreachchurchofanaheim.org Grval

    We have developed a live play/ drama addressing the negative results of meth and crack abuse. It is entitled the “The Last Blast” We premiere its showing on September 25th, 2005, Pearson Park Amphitheater, Anaheim, Ca. It’s one way, we, as a church are reaching out to thousands in Orange County, Ca. We many ex-drug addicts and what you may call, tweakers, who are doing great due to their faith in Jesus Christ. Just blogging, letting you know, we’re in the trenches, trying to help others get out of the pit of meth.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Are there some who are pro-meth, outside of the users?

    Thanks for the info, though.

  • http://69.145.23.183 Butian

    Heres the deal. I think this is all just a laugh riot. What I think is funny is that this is the only “thing” that has ever brought me to my knees without doing anything to me or me to it. Maybe it’s more that what it does was done to somebody else. When I heard about what it did I felt this claw reach into my body just above my hips and it made me feel sick and that tickle that comes with intense pain like when you break your arm. Then there is the six years where I was living with a person who was a hardcore tweaker. It was entirely unknown to me that she was unless she was coming down.

    As far as the capital goes. Whateva. Philly, Valley of the Spun, whateva. You don’t know unless you know, you know.

    Epidemic on the other hand. You have no idea. Like the commercial says which, also makes me break into hysterical laughter, not even once. You cant do anything about this now. There should have been something done about this 20 years ago whent it actually WAS a problem and not a dismal impossibility. Concede defeat now or keep jumping off the cliff like lemmings without parachutes. Either way its all funny to watch stupid run after stupid whether they are tweakers or those out to save lives and souls.

    Meth is THE gateway drug. I used to think that headbangin would get you in. If you cant feel me Im saying the doorway to hell. The best I’ve ever heard it said was “coke will get your wallet crank will get your soul”.

  • meth

    oregon is the current meth capital
    oregon represent

  • Alanna

    Valley of the spun, Arizona is the meth capital. There are cities completely dedicated to meth. Trailers, circle k’s, walmart’s, and lots and lots of meth. Apache Junction, Arizona. Ohhhh yeahhhh.

    California has a good amount too, but there are more sober happy people there than there is in Arizona. I found it harder to find there too, and not to mention i never found it cheaper than here in AZ.

    It’s all a hype, I have done meth for going on 5 years. I am 21, and it got me to go back to high school after i dropped out. Now is helping me get my Associates Degree! Woo! It helps me from not killing myself, and makes me focus. I was prescribed Adderal (amphetamine), but way too weak, so some of us must self-medicate.

  • Angel Wings

    Though this post may be painfully late , I feel it is worth relaying. As a Christian I’ve grown up believing and following and, to the best of my ability, practicing my faith. To define Christian: to be a follower of Christ; Christ like. That said, my open-mindedness does not leave the respect for others faiths and beliefs. Therefor, live and let live….
    That said, as a society, we can create our own monsters. Many fall prey to a false belief about themselves because of a judgement or stigma that has been socially broadcasted. Many who make the unfortunate decision to try meth are eventually exposed to the cruel reputation that follows it and thus follows them. Some are further inflicted by the deception that because they partake they are, by default, that horrible thing. the biggest tragedy are the ones who believe this false self image and thus act out in the same way they are being judged. Our society plants “truth’s” about certain things and thus we judge one another in accordance. The problem is these are only half truths and many nice people are victimized by it, though the general public may not see it that way. So you see, we cause a lot of the poor behavior by broadcasting our ignorant beliefs about it. This leads many people into a belief that for most is unwarranted. One must personally experience something in order to have a valid opinion about said subject. There are many who have legitimate reasons to proclaim hatred over this drug called meth. LEGITIMATE REASONS!!!!!! No question about that. There are many people who take this drug and make one horrible decision after another. Those are the stories that we, as a society, hear.! There are however others who indulge who do not make those same bad decisions. These people pay their bills, raise their children, are members of the pta and churches etc. these are the stories we don’t hear about. Please, people, let’s start basing our opinions of others by their own deeds and stop throwing good people away. Many should not have to pay for the sins of a few. Opening our minds and our hearts to people …that’s when true change happens. Blessed are those who bless and merciful are those who have been shown mercy. When we do unto others that which they DO NOT deserve, ie: forgiveness, kindness, generosity etc…. We plant the seeds of change….