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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Has meth been overplayed?

From the Arizona Republic:

"U.S. meth epidemic just media hype

King
Jun. 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Methamphetamines have become the drug of choice around the nation," reads the text of one recent newspaper story, while another proclaims, "This epidemic can only be arrested, not cured." These stories and scores more like them have created a climate in which many Americans believe that meth has become the "next big thing" in the realm of drug threats.

Make no mistake about it. Meth is a dangerous substance that, like many other drugs, has wreaked havoc in the lives of many families and communities. But although meth is a serious problem in some communities, in most parts of the country its use remains rare.

Media coverage of meth has distorted the scale of its use, hyping it as a national story while creating concern about problems in regions where none exist. This approach threatens both communities struggling with meth addiction as well as those addressing other types of substance abuse.

Despite the media's dogmatic adherence to the narrative of a national meth epidemic, an examination of key governmental indicators on drug use reveals a very different picture. Nationally, only 0.2 percent of Americans are regular users of methamphetamine. This is a rate four times less than that of cocaine use.

And just last week, two reports were released showing a decline in the number of lab seizures in 2005 and a decline in the number of workplace drug screens testing positive for meth. These figures suggest that, although meth does carry a high price tag for those who use it, the nation is making strides in addressing the addiction.

But if meth is indeed such a dangerous drug, why does it matter if the media have been misrepresenting the story? If these stories, however embellished, succeed in keeping just a small number of people from trying the drug, hasn't society benefited? The truth is that sound policy of any type is never forged from rhetoric or misinformation, and the misrepresentation of meth use has resulted in a number of worrisome consequences.

First, if history is any guide, relying upon exaggerated claims about the consequences of using certain drugs has exhibited little impact on public perceptions. In fact, studies have shown that people exposed to certain types of anti-drug advertising have actually demonstrated a "boomerang effect," in which their attitudes about the drug become less negative.

Second, the media's perpetuation of the message that methamphetamine does not respond to treatment and results in irreversible physical and mental damage is incorrect, irresponsible and dangerous. Studies in 15 states have demonstrated positive results in abstention from drug use, reduced arrests and increased employment.

At a time when many communities are struggling with the challenge of addressing substance abuse, this "nothing works" reporting fosters an environment of antipathy toward treatment.

Why would federal or state governments invest in expanding treatment options if they are constantly bombarded with the message that such an effort would merely be throwing good money after bad? Such reporting is a disservice to the individuals and communities suffering and increases the likelihood that future responses to methamphetamine will eschew prevention and treatment in favor of tougher prison terms but no sustainable reduction in substance abuse.

Finally, if the discourse on drug abuse and prevention is disproportionately dominated by meth, then communities struggling with other types of substance-abuse problems are likely to have greater difficulty obtaining necessary resources. We can see how this plays out in different communities around the country.

In San Diego and Portland, Ore., rates of methamphetamine abuse among arrestees have increased in recent years. Clearly, local officials need to be concerned about the sources of the drug, the reasons why people are using it, and the need to develop treatment programs aimed at this particular drug.

But in Philadelphia and New York, meth is barely a blip on the radar screen. Instead, those cities are grappling with the problems brought about by cocaine and heroin abuse.

If national funds and public attention are increasingly directed toward addressing meth, that leaves some cities even more vulnerable to the problems caused by these other dangerous drugs. This is the problem caused by a "one size fits all" drug strategy, one that has been shaped in large measure by sensationalist media accounts."

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Interesting points, although "regular methamphetimine use" and "regular cocaine use" look very very different from eachother. We all know cokeheads and we all know methheads, and we know which ones are talkative assholes and which ones are psychotic delusional freaks. Cokeheads become famous comedians, and methheads pee their pants at the busstop, okay?!

Statistics are fun to twist, especially when we get to ignore symptoms lists!

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