Thursday, June 15, 2006
Meth Epidemic Turns Out To Be Manufactured Hysteria
A few months back, I pointed out that there was a tsunami of anti-drug hysteria over the use of methedrine—meth, crank, speed, whatever the current street name is. The drug has been around the street drug market for years—at least forty that I remember. It's essentially an amphetamine; the use of amphetamines began back during World War Two when the Germans issued it to their troops. Now we issue it to our troops.The hysteria rises periodically and ends up being a justification for more punishment and jails and more intrusion into people’s private lives.
Years ago, Consumers’ Reports published a book on drug use in America. Research showed that the more publicity there was about the horrors of a specific drug, the wider spread its use became. An economic analysis also shows that no one really cares about issues like drug abuse or teen-age violence until it moves into the middle-classes.
Once again, careful studies have shown meth to be a much smaller threat than the hype portrated it as being. But the money budgeted to "fighting meth" will be used to punish people who are unfortunate enough to get strung out on it, not to help them.
Meth use rare in U.S., declining among teens, a study says
6/14/2006, 2:57 p.m. PT
By MARK SHERMAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Methamphetamine use is rare in most of the United States, not the raging epidemic described by politicians and the news media, says a study by an advocacy group.
Meth is a dangerous drug but among the least commonly used, The Sentencing Project policy analyst Ryan King wrote in a report issued Wednesday. Rates of use have been stable since 1999, and among teenagers meth use has dropped, King said.
"The portrayal of methamphetamine in the United States as an epidemic spreading across the country has been grossly overstated," King said. The Sentencing Project is a not-for-profit group that supports alternatives to prison terms for convicted drug users and other criminals.
Overheated rhetoric, unsupported assertions and factual errors about the use of the drug — including frequent, misguided comparisons between meth and crack cocaine — lead to poor decisions about how to spend precious public dollars combating drug addiction, King said.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy did not immediately comment on the report.
The report cites statistics compiled by the government to make its case, including a 2004 survey that estimated 583,000 people used meth in the past month, or two-10ths of 1 percent of the U.S. population. Four times as many people use cocaine regularly and 30 times as many use marijuana, King said.
A separate survey of high-school students showed a 36 percent drop in meth use between 2001 and 2005.
The report acknowledged that methamphetamine is more widely used today than it was 10 years ago. Data from the jail populations of a handful of cities on the West Coast also show what King called a "highly localized" problem.
Among men arrested in Phoenix, 38.3 percent tested positive for methamphetamine. Figures for other cities are: Los Angeles, 28.7 percent; Portland, 25.4; San Diego, 36.2 percent; and San Jose, Calif., 36.9 percent.
But nationally, just 5 percent of men who had been arrested had meth in their systems. By contrast, 30 percent tested positive for cocaine and 44 percent for marijuana, the report said, citing government statistics.
Treatment programs for meth also have been portrayed inaccurately, with news reports suggesting that meth users do not respond as well to treatment as users of other drugs, King said. The Bush administration's recent methamphetamine control strategy also referred to a "common misperception that methamphetamine is so addictive that it is impossible to treat."
Programs in 15 states have had promising results, King said.
"Mischaracterizing the impact of methamphetamine by exaggerating its prevalence and consequences while downplaying its receptivity to treatment succeeds neither as a tool of prevention nor a vehicle of education," he wrote.
King called for a tempered approach to the problem, keeping the focus on local trouble spots and using federal money to beef up treatment programs.
On the Net:
The Sentencing Project: http://www.sentencingproject.org
White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.