Frontline on Meth
Last night, PBS Frontline ran a documentary produced in association with The Oregonian entitled The Meth Epidemic. The show documented how the methamphetamine epidemic grew from a mostly Western problem (Oregon has the highest per capita treatment admissions for meth in the nation), but has now spread throughout the West and Midwest, and now threatens the Southeast and East Coast.
The 22%? That’s the stat I picked up from the show — only 22% of the people who ever get addicted to meth ever manage to kick the drug.
I’ve written publicly about my mid-’90s meth addiction before (Attack of the Meth Monsters), so I won’t recycle my personal story here. Instead, I want to focus on the one point that the Frontline documentary never addressed.
They did a good job detailing the damage meth does to communities. 80% of the property crime, 75% of the violent crime, and 50% of the children removed to foster care in Oregon can all be traced to this hideous drug. They re-ran the photos from the Oregonian’s “Faces of Meth” series to show the devastating physical effects from the drug.
They also did a great job tracking the rise and fall in meth purity and how that relates to rise and fall in addiction and crime. They showed how there are only nine labs in the world that produce the the precursor ephedrine and pseudoephedrine needed to cook meth. They contrasted this with a similar fight against quaaludes (remember ludes, dude?), which was successfully beaten by stemming the source of the highly complex drug at the lab level, something that proved impossible with a high-powered pharmaceutical lobby determined to keep profitable cold and sinus pills on the shelves of the local drugstore.
They also illustrated the political and tactical roadblocks that have allowed a one-or-two-state problem in the ’80s to explode into a soon-to-be-nationwide problem in the ’00s.
What they never tackled, never even approached in the documentary: why do people take meth in the first place? What socioeconomic factors lead someone to choose a drug that is obviously so devastating? How does someone’s life descend into such hopelessness and despair that shoving battery-acid, Drano-laden powder into one’s face for a three-day sleepless sweaty sex-filled tweek-binge seems like a good plan?
(I know my reasons. Uncle Sam told me pot was the most awful thing in the world. I tried some, it didn’t kill me. Uncle Sam told me cocaine would instantly addict me and ruin my life. I tried some, it didn’t kill me. So when meth came around, I figured Uncle Sam was lying again. Also, I was a party-hearty invincible hard-rock musician in my 20s with a bisexual tweeker stripper girlfriend, desperately trying to create a good “Behind the Music” story…)
My theories are these:
* Our government lies about drugs and lumps all recreational drugs into the same rhetorical category. I’m not the only one who sees through the idiocy of most anti-drug campaigns, and if you’re lying to me about one drug, why should I believe you about the other drug?
* Prohibitionary policies create a system where the naturally growing, relatively benign weed costs as much as gold, and the chemically manufactured, absolutely destructive powder costs as much as a Powerball ticket. $5 worth of meth promises a party for a weekend; $5 worth of weed promises you a chuckle from your dealer. What would you rather live next to, an apartment with a hydroponic pot garden or one with an explosive hazardous waste lab?
* Meth is the all-American drug. Helps you stay awake, lose weight, work hard, play hard, and get hard. How many tweekers started off just needing a jolt to work that second shift or finish that term paper or drop those twenty pounds?
Those of us in the west are well aware of the crystal meth problem, especially in the rural areas (like my exurban Idaho homeland). The other population dealing with the meth epidemic? Young urban gay men.
NEW YORK – Tina, crank, chalk and ice may sound like innocuous monikers for a “party” drug but the substance that is all the rage in New York’s hedonistic gay bathhouses is eroding progress made in the fight against AIDS.
Use of crystal meth, or methamphetamine — what used to be known as “speed” — has become rife among the sexually-promiscuous in the gay community. That drug use has spurred an increase in unprotected anal sex that has alarmed city health officials and AIDS activists.
Highly addictive and readily available, the drug’s effects when smoked include impaired judgment, loss of control and a voracious sexual appetite [Voracious? How about “all-consuming unquenchable”]. Coupled with a sense of invulnerability, it creates a perfect environment for spreading AIDS, experts say.
Bathhouses, popular venues for some gay men seeking no-strings-attached sex, are the front line of the problem. Drug use, though prohibited, is widespread and some patrons stay high for an entire weekend binge, engaging in sex with dozens of partners.
Unfortunately, meth is set to invade the East Coast. Fortunately, that’s where Congress is, and maybe they’ll take notice of the problem, force the pseudoephedrine behind the counter (against the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying), start an international effort to track the production on the nine ephedrine labs worldwide, and put some serious money toward funding drug treatment in this country.