P R O G R E S S I V E R E V I E W NEWS FROM THE DRUG WAR THE METH HYPE INDEX UNDERNEWS MAIL US EARLIER STORIES
Estimated number of methamphetamine labs busted in Missouri in 2011: 2,000
METH CRISIS AIN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE
JACK SHAFER, SLATE - Last Friday, Jan. 26, the federal National Survey on Drug Use and Health released results from a survey that showed meth use had "declined overall between 2002 and 2005" and that the number of "initiates"- people using the drug for the first time in the 12 months before the survey-had "remained relatively stable between 2002 and 2004, but decreased between 2004 and 2005." In other words, meth use was declining just as Newsweek started clawing itself bloody about the growing trend. . . An iron law of journalism dictates that news of increased drug use goes onto Page One and at the top of broadcasts, but news of decreased drug use must be buried or ignored. . . By design or accident, the press dropped the federal government's measurement of a decline in methamphetamine use down the memory hole.
OBAMA, CLINTON, BIDEN AND DODD DID MEXICAN METH DEALERS A BIG FAVOR
NICK GILLESPIE, REASON - Over at Left Independent, Pat Rogers points out that presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was one of the co-sponsors of The Combat Meth Act, whose chief effects have been to make it more difficult to buy cold medicines--and to juice up Mexican drug cartels.
On his "crime" issue page U.S. Sen. Barack Obama has this to say about the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005:
"Senator Obama cosponsored the Combat Meth Act, which provides more money for fighting methamphetamine (meth), tightens controls on the sale of meth ingredients, and provides assistance to the children of meth abusers."
Bridget Johnson, Los Angeles Daily News, reported the government's own National Drug Intelligence Center's assessment of the "success" of Obama's Combat Meth Act:
"According to the National Drug Intelligence Center's 2007 National Drug Threat Assessment, 'Marked success in decreasing domestic methamphetamine production through law enforcement pressure and strong precursor chemical sales restrictions has enabled Mexican (drug trafficking organizations) to rapidly expand their control over methamphetamine distribution - even in eastern states - as users and distributors who previously produced the drug have sought new, consistent sources."
Rogers notes that three other Democratic presidential candidates--Sens. Joe Biden (Del.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), and Christopher Dodd (Conn.)--are also proud co-sponsors of the Meth act.
FACTS ON METH
Margaret Dooley, ALTERNET - Although some 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine, this is far fewer than the number who have tried inhalants (23 million), hallucinogens (34 million), cocaine (34 million), or marijuana (96 million). Of those who have tried methamphetamine, only 1.5 million have used the drug in the last year; and only 583,000 have used it within the last 30 days.
There is no indication that methamphetamine use is increasing. The proportion of Americans who use methamphetamine on a monthly basis has hovered in the range of 0.2 percent - 0.3 percent since 1999. In fact, according to the 2005 Monitoring the Future survey, the percentage of high school seniors who reported using methamphetamine in the last year fell to a low of 2.5 percent in 2005. (Use of depressants, meanwhile, increased from a low of 2.8 percent in 1992 to around 7 percent in 2005.)
Second, policing is not "taking care" of methamphetamine. While limits on purchases of precursors have pushed many illicit labs out of our neighborhoods, the drug is still being manufactured -- just now it's across the border. Indeed, methamphetamine is now as available and cheap as it has ever been. This comes as no surprise. As long as demand for an illegal drug exists, there will be supply to meet it.
While policing has failed to curtail use of methamphetamine, it has successfully overloaded our jails and prisons. In the 1980s-90s, California followed national trends by relying increasingly on punishment and prisons as its primary response to arrests for illicit drug use. The total number of people imprisoned in California for drug possession quadrupled between 1988 and 2000, peaking at 20,116. . .
The truth about methamphetamine is that its use is not growing exponentially, that addiction is treatable, and that the risks it poses to public health can be mitigated.
MORE ON METH
METH HYPE UPDATE
JESSIE MCQUILLAN, MISSOULA INDEPENDENT - A national report examining the meth epidemic released in May by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group advocating sentencing law reform, highlighted escalating media coverage of meth despite steadily low rates of meth use nationwide. For the last five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Survey on Drug Use and Health has consistently found 0.2 percent of Americans reported meth use within a month of the survey. Four times as many Americans reported regular cocaine use; 30 times more reported regular marijuana use and 90 times more reported binge drinking, according to the report's data. Seizure of meth labs nationwide fell by more than 30 percent nationwide in 2005 - 66 percent in Montana specifically - and the leading provider of workplace drug testing reported a 31 percent decrease in positive meth tests in the first half of 2006, and a 45 percent decrease since 2004.
The same period has seen increasing amounts of ever-more intense media coverage. In August 2005, Newsweek called meth an "epidemic" and a "plague" and slapped the headline "America's Most Dangerous Drug" on its cover. "A general lack of critical analysis coupled with widespread reporting of opinions masquerading as facts have resulted in a national media that has been complicit in perpetuating a myth of a methamphetamine epidemic," says Ryan King, author of the report.
What you won't learn from project officials, the mainstream media or politicians is that meth use by Montana teens, the specific target of the Montana Meth Project, has been on the decline for seven steady years. You won't hear that the project's own survey, conducted once before the ads ran and again six months into their run, found a statistically significant increase in the number of teens who said they saw no risk in trying meth once or twice. Nor will you learn of the survey's finding that large numbers of teens report that the project's ads exaggerate meth's risks, or that decades of drug prevention research has found similar scare tactics to be ineffective.
In 1999, 13.5 percent of Montana high-schoolers reported meth use to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted every other year and didn't begin collecting meth figures until 1999. That figure dropped to 12.6 percent in 2001, 9.3 percent in 2003 and 8.3 percent in 2005. Among seventh- and eighth-graders, the same span saw a drop from 7.5 percent in 1999 to 2.8 percent in 2005, the year the Montana Meth Project launched its ads, and the most recent year for which numbers are available.
Local trends mirror national movement too, though teen usage in Montana remains slightly higher than in the rest of the country. Nationwide, 9.1 percent of surveyed teens reported meth usage in 1999, dropping to 6.2 percent in 2005.
At the two state teen drug treatment centers, 9 percent of residents report meth as their primary drug of choice, according to data provided by Chemical Dependency Services Chief Joan Cassidy.
For context, usage rates of other drugs are much higher. In 2005, 35 percent of Montana high schoolers reported binge drinking within the last month, compared to 25 percent nationally. A full 42 percent of Montana teens admitted to smoking marijuana at some point or another; 15 percent said they'd used inhalants; 9 percent reported cocaine use.
WASHINGTON POST HYPES METH HYSTERIA
THE MOST TELLING part of the Washington Post over-hyped story on meth was the headline, "The Next Crack Cocaine?" Media misreporting on crack led to much human misery and grossly disproportionate prison sentences thanks to politicians caught up in the craze.
The story, as is typical of this sort of thing, is poorly supported by facts, preferring such abstractions as "The number of methamphetamine labs and addicts in the Washington area has jumped in recent years. . . " Loaded phrases include "dangerously addictive," and "ravaged," but we are left bereft of any serious facts other than that the police closed 80 regional meth labs last year as compared to none in 2000. This is a stat about law enforcement, however, and not about health. Besides, as Radley Balko points out, this can merely mean that, as a result, users have switched to major traffickers (who are the source of most of the supply) rather than doing it themselves.
The willingness of media to serve as shills for law enforcement agencies seeking to increasing their budgets is one of the reasons we have such an ineffective and cruel drug policy.
RADLEY BALKO, FOX NEWS - Inevitably, reaction from media, politicians and regulators to a particular drug's fashionability are overblown and do little to diminish actual abuse. Instead, efforts to thwart drug use often result in costly, needless hassling of law-abiding people that chip away at civil liberties (see the DEA's relentless pursuit of Oxycontin-prescribing physicians, for example).
The latest drug panic is over the rising use of methamphetimine. This time, the outrage seems to stem from the fact that some meth users not only make stuff in their own garages, but that a key ingredient, pseudoephedrine, can be derived from common cold and allergy medicines found in the local pharmacy.
Lawmakers across the country have predictably jumped into over-reaction. The state of Oklahoma - where meth use is soaring - acted first. Last year, the state passed a law requiring pharmacies to move cold and allergy medications behind the counter. Stores without pharmacies can no longer sell the drugs. Similar laws put limits on the amount of medication one customer can buy in a given period of time, and require customers to show identification and sign a registry before purchase. Those registries, of course, then need to be maintained and monitored. . .
But even the government's own data suggests that these laws won't work, and won't significantly curb the supply of meth or its use. In some ways, they'll likely only make the problem worse. They'll put recreational meth users into more frequent contact with smugglers and traffickers, likely sparking increases in black market violence.
According to the DEA's own website, most of this country's meth comes not from garage laboratories in the Midwest, but from clandestine "superlabs" in California and Mexico. These labs smuggle pseudoephedrine in bulk from Mexico and Canada and use it to manufacture street methempamphetamine, which they then distribute across the country. Cold and allergy medicine never enters the picture. It's almost certain that these superlabs would compensate for any small dip in the meth supply caused by limiting homemade "meth cooks'" access to pseudoephedrine.
Laws like Talent-Feinstein and similar bills in statehouses across the country do little more than inconvenience cold and allergy sufferers. They also create yet another way for authorities to monitor and track our consumer habits. These laws also likely make common cold medicine more expensive for stores to stock and, therefore, more expensive for customers to buy. The registries and purchasing procedures will lead to longer lines at the pharmacy, particularly during cold and allergy season. . .
Supporters of these laws commonly point to the alleged success local authorities have had since the law in Oklahoma was passed. Noting the Oklahoma law, Talent and Feinstein wrote recently in the Washington Post that efforts there produced "an 80 percent drop in the number of meth labs seized. This law works. We should copy it."
But note the metric Talent and Feinstein choose to measure the law's success: "meth labs seized." It's an odd goalpost. It says nothing about actual meth use in the state, just the number of labs dismantled by law enforcement. The number of Oklahomans using meth may not have dropped at all (an official figure isn't yet available). It's very possible that the law has made Oklahoma's meth users turn to smugglers and traffickers to get their fix instead of cooking their own drugs at home. I'm not sure that's an improvement. . .
Of course, the very reason we have a meth problem is because Drug War policies have made similar drugs like cocaine more expensive (though by no means eradicated). Meth is in fact sometimes called "the poor man's cocaine." Step on the "cocaine" part of the balloon, and the air pops up elsewhere, as meth.
JACOB SULLUM, REASON - "Meth has spread like wildfire across the United States," said Karen Tandy, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, at a recent press conference where she announced more than 400 methamphetamine-related arrests. "It has burned out communities, scorched childhoods, and charred once happy and productive lives beyond recognition." Throwing in another disaster metaphor for good measure, Tandy declared the Bush administration's "commitment to extinguishing this plague.". . .
The DEA's site includes a conspicuous link to "Meth Is Death," a site sponsored by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. The latter site claims that "1 in 7 high school students will try meth"; "99 percent of first-time meth users are hooked after just the first try"; "only 5 percent of meth addicts are able to kick it and stay away"; and "the life expectancy of a habitual meth user is only 5 years."
Do the math (which the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference clearly didn't), and you will see that 13.4 percent of Americans die as a result of methamphetamine abuse within five years of graduating from high school. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 20 million 15-to-19-year-olds in the U.S., so we are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, and that's not even counting people who start using meth after high school.
Such ridiculous claims, now implicitly endorsed by the DEA, can only undermine legitimate warnings about the hazards of methamphetamine. The federal government's own survey data indicate that the vast majority of people who try meth do not escalate to addiction, let alone end up dead as a result.
In the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 6 percent of people who have tried methamphetamine report using it in the last month, which does not necessarily indicate addiction but is surely a minimum requirement. According to data from the National Comorbidity Survey, perhaps one in 10 stimulant users ever experiences "drug dependence." . . .
DISINFORMATION, 2002 - According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, an office of the US Department of Health, there were 1,206 "mentions" of drug deaths attributable to amphetamines in 40 metropolitan areas in 1999. However, this figure includes individuals with chronic and acute diseases of the heart, kidneys, and liver as well as people who mixed amphetamines with other drugs (usually depressants). Clearly, one cannot objectively blame amphetamines for the death of individuals who used them haphazardously with pre-existing conditions any more than one can blame a pin prick for causing the death of a haemophiliac. . .
If speed is so addicting, where are the "addicted" recipients of over 200 million amphetamine tablets consumed by GI's in World War II? If there were any problems then it is extremely doubtful that Uncle Sam would upgrade to meth (six times stronger) and churn it out in even greater quantities in Korea and Vietnam? The only veteran-related drug concern that came out of the latter was the use of high-grade heroin - a physically addicting drug. . .
US DISTRICT JUDGE RONNIE GREER - Taking all the foregoing factors into consideration, and taking into consideration the congressional mandate that sentences for crack offenses be stiffer than for cocaine offenses, the Court finds that the following factors outweigh the significant weight this Court has determined to give to the sentencing guidelines advisory range . . . 4. The unjustified disparity in the 100:1 quality ratio for punishment between cocaine base or crack and powder cocaine. . .
MARIAH BLAKE, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, 2004 - Crack hit the streets in 1984, and by 1987 the press had run more than 1,000 stories about it, many focusing on the plight of so-called crack babies. The hand wringing over these children started in September 1985, when the media got hold of Dr. Ira Chasnoff's New England Journal of Medicine article suggesting that prenatal cocaine exposure could have a devastating effect on infants. Only twenty-three cocaine-using women participated in the study, and Chasnoff warned in the report that more research was needed. But the media paid no heed. Within days of the first story, CBS News found a social worker who claimed that an eighteen-month-old crack-exposed baby she was treating would grow up to have "an IQ of perhaps fifty" and be "barely able to dress herself."
Soon, images of the crack epidemic's "tiniest victims" - scrawny, trembling infants - were flooding television screens. Stories about their bleak future abounded. One psychologist told The New York Times that crack was "interfering with the central core of what it is to be human." Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for the The Washington Post, wrote that crack babies were doomed to "a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority." The public braced for the day when this "biological underclass" would cripple our schools, fill our jails, and drain our social programs.
But the day never came. Crack babies, it turns out, were a media myth, not a medical reality. This is not to say that crack is harmless. Infants exposed to cocaine in the womb, including the crystallized version known as crack, weigh an average of 200 grams below normal at birth, according to a massive, ongoing National Institutes of Health study. "For a healthy, ten-pound Gerber baby this is no big deal," explains Barry Lester, the principal investigator. But it can make things worse for small, sickly infants.
Lester has also found that the IQs of cocaine-exposed seven-year-olds are four and a half points lower on average, and some researchers have documented other subtle problems. Perhaps more damaging than being exposed to cocaine itself is growing up with addicts, who are often incapable of providing a stable, nurturing home. But so-called crack babies are by no means ruined. Most fare far better, in fact, than children whose mothers drink heavily while pregnant.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the drug-war hysteria, crack babies became an emblem of the havoc drugs wreak and a pretext for draconian drug laws. Hospitals began secretly testing pregnant women for cocaine, and jailing them or taking their children. Tens of thousands of kids were swept into foster care, where many languish to this day. . .
ELLEN GOODMAN, BOSTON SUNDAY GLOBE, 1992 - Three years after the epidemic of stories about these children began, six years after hospitals began to see newborns in deep trouble, researchers are casting doubt on the popular demon of the war on drugs. The very phrase "crack baby" is, in any literal sense, a misnomer. Cocaine is rarely taken by itself. It's part of a stew of substances taken in a variety of doses and circumstances. No direct line has been drawn from the mother's use of cocaine to fetal damage.
Alcohol and tobacco may do as much harm to the fetus as cocaine. So may poor nutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, and the lack of medical care. Most important, it appears that the children born to cocaine-using mothers are not hopeless cases, permanently assigned to the monster track. . .
HOW A NEWSPAPER FUELED THE 'METH EPIDEMIC'
ANGELA VALDEZ, WLLIAMETTE WEEK - Over the past year and a half, The Oregonian has dedicated itself to exposing the rise of methamphetamine addiction. Beginning with its five-part series "Unnecessary Epidemic" in October 2004 and continuing through this month, reporters have hunted down the causes of the outbreak, revealing a web of international suppliers and offering solutions that previously languished because of a lack of political will.
Devoting at least 261 stories to the subject in the past year and a half, The Oregonian's ongoing investigation is an example of what can happen when a newspaper decides to lead a campaign against a social ill. In part because of the daily's coverage, Congress has passed tough anti-meth laws and Oregon has become the home base for a rising national uproar over the powerful stimulant.
But there is a darker side to the newspaper's achievement. . .
Few local media watchers are willing to criticize The Oregonian's coverage of the meth problem. But skepticism about the growing frenzy has begun to appear in the pages of major papers across the country, from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, where columnist John Tierney recently wrote that politicians have become so meth-obsessed, "they've lost sight of their duties." . . .
Dr. Jim Thayer, medical director of the Portland addiction-treatment center Hooper Detox, says The Oregonian's reporting has helped create this "feeling of hysteria. The media latched onto this thing that's been going on for years. I just worry that they'll take resources away that have been working for years and just put them into meth." . . .
In fact, meth use during the past four years has either declined or stayed flat, according to two major national drug-use studies. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that meth use did not increase at all from 2002 . . . through 2004, the last year for which there is data. The University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Study, which examines drug use among youth, actually shows a decline in meth use among high-school students from 1999 to 2005. . .
The Oregonian has often reported that meth "fuels" 85 percent of the state's property crimes. The statistic - which has fluctuated between 80 and 90 percent - has appeared in at least 14 stories over the past four years, each time without any skepticism and four times without any attribution. . .
Despite The Oregonian's reliance on this figure, there is no good evidence that meth causes 85 percent of the property crimes in Oregon. Portland State University criminology professor Kris Henning says the number just doesn't make sense. Department chair Annette Jolin says the unsupportable statistic has become "something of a joke "among statistical researchers in the department. For one thing, Oregon property crimes are much lower than they were 10 or even 20 years ago, the time period of the supposed meth "epidemic."
"If meth causes property offenses, and meth use has gone up," Henning says, "then property offenses should have gone up. And they haven't. It's either that, or all the people who commit property crimes have disappeared and been replaced by a small number of meth users." . . .
The children of the meth
epidemic have become the emotional center of The Oregonian's
coverage. On Aug. 28, 2005, The Oregonian's Sunday edition ran
a front-page story with the headline, "Oregon's meth epidemic
creates thousands of 'orphans.'" Reporter Joseph Rose cited
a new study by the state Department of Human Services that linked
half of the state's foster-care cases to meth. He wrote, "Last
year, roughly 2,750 children-more than half of all foster cases-were
taken from parents using or making the potent drug, the study
DHS coordinator Jay Wurscher compared a list of 2004 foster-care cases-containing the names of parents and other adults-with a database of people who had received treatment for meth. He came up with a roughly 50 percent match. Wurscher's comparison did not show whether meth use specifically caused the children to be taken from their homes. The analysis did, however, reveal a possible correlation between the drug and child abuse.
Like the 85 percent statistic, the large percentage of meth-related foster care cases would suggest a recent surge in the number of children being intercepted by social workers - which has not happened, according to state foster-care data.
MONICA DAVEY, NY TIMES - Quite distinct from the oral damage done by other drugs, sugar and smoking, methamphetamine seems to be taking a unique, and horrific, toll inside its users' mouths. In short stretches of time, sometimes just months, a perfectly healthy set of teeth can turn a grayish-brown, twist and begin to fall out, and take on a peculiar texture less like that of hard enamel and more like that of a piece of ripened fruit.
The condition, known to some as meth mouth, has been studied little in dentistry's academic circles and is unknown to many dentists, whose patients are increasingly focused on cosmetic issues: the bleaching and perfect veneers of television's makeover shows. But other dentists, especially those in the open, empty swaths of land where methamphetamine is being manufactured in homemade laboratories, say they are seeing a growing number of such cases. . .
The drug itself, a synthetic stimulant that can be manufactured just about anywhere, causes dry mouth, Dr. Shaner said, and that in turn allows decay to start, since saliva is unavailable to help control bacteria in the mouth. The drug also tends to leave users thirsty and craving a constant supply of soda pop and other sugary drinks, which spur the decay; Mountain Dew, he said, has become the preferred drink of methamphetamine users. At the same time, the drug's highly addictive nature causes many users simply to stop doing what is needed to take care of themselves, including the brushing of teeth.
STUDY: HEROIN PRESCRIPTIONS
WOULD PAY FOR THEMSELVES
BBC - There are strong
reasons to support the practice of prescribing heroin to drug
mis-users, researchers claim. A University of Amsterdam team
says the treatment is cost-effective, even though it is expensive.
Previous research has shown supervised medial prescription of heroin improves the physical and mental health, and ability to function normally in society, of users who cannot be successfully treated using just methadone - a synthetic narcotic used to treat heroin addiction
The Dutch scientists looked at 430 heroin addicts who were taking part in methadone maintenance programs in six cities in the Netherlands. Before they took part in the study, they had frequently engaged in illegal activities to acquire money or drugs. The addicts were given either methadone plus heroin, or methadone alone.
The patients were then assessed after a year of treatment. Those given the combination treatment reported a better quality of life, compared to those given methadone alone. And although the costs of co-prescription were found to be considerably higher, they were offset by lower policing costs and reduced costs of crime against property because addicts were not breaking the law to fund their habit.
WOULD PRODUCE BILLIONS
MARIUANA POLICY PROJECT - In a report, Dr. Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard University, estimates that replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year. In response, a group of more than 500 distinguished economists -- led by Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Milton Friedman -- released an open letter to President Bush and other public officials calling for "an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition," adding, "We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods."
The paper concludes:
- Replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of legal regulation would save approximately $7.7 billion in government expenditures on prohibition enforcement.
- Revenue from taxation of marijuana sales would range from $2.4 billion per year if marijuana were taxed like ordinary consumer goods to $6.2 billion if it were taxed like alcohol or tobacco.