The Meth 'Epidemic': Not New, Not National (and Not Really an Epidemic, but Don't Get Me Started on the Medicalization of Behavior)

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The Drug War Chronicle reports that data released this week by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research indicate that the number of methamphetamine-related drug treatment admissions in the U.S. rose nine-fold between 1992 and 2003. Half the admissions in 2003 were referrals from the criminal justice system–i.e., drug offenders forced into treatment by the threat of jail. "Caution should be used in utilizing treatment admissions data as an indicator of use or dependence," say the researchers, "since treatment admissions may also be influenced by changes in law enforcement and sentencing practices as well as changes in legislation which divert drug offenders to treatment."

The University of Maryland numbers are based on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Treatment Episode Data Set, which is not comprehensive but "includes records for some 1.5 million substance abuse treatment admissions annually." The number of methamphetamine admissions counted by TEDS in 2003 (129,000, up from 14,570 in 1992) represents 7 percent of that total, up from 1 percent in 1992.

The TEDS tables available online don't have a column for methamphetamine specifically. But judging from the numbers for "amphetamines," admissions climbed steadily from 1992 through 2003 (the latest year for which national data are available), except for a dip in 1996. Leaving aside the problem of measuring addiction through criminal justice referrals, this trend does not jibe with the impression left by news media coverage that the country has been experiencing a methamphetamine "epidemic" that emerged suddenly in the last few years.

Nor do the data indicate a nationwide "epidemic." In 2005, for instance, Oregon had 9,563 treatment admissions for amphetamines, or 266 per 100,000 residents, while New York state had 611, or three per 100,000 residents. And while admissions have been rising since 2003 in Oregon, they've been falling in New York.

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  1. It doesn’t matter if things are getting better if people believe things are getting worse.

  2. Everythings an epidemic with these drug war morons. If it’s not pot, it’s coke, if it’s not coke, it’s crack, if it’s not crack it’s meth. Wonder what the next evil one drop you’re hooked society destroying substance will be?

  3. First, I think pot should probably be legal, and government spending in general massively reduced.

    But I don’t think you can minimize crystal meth. It is 5 times more addictive than heroin, and makes crack look like cotton candy. Really destroys people, and doesn’t just kill them with an OD, but tortures them and their loved ones for years in a slow, agonizing death.

  4. It is 5 times more addictive than heroin

    I see claims like this all the time and I don’t know what they mean.

    Does it take 1/5th the number of uses to get addicted? Or 1/5th the dosage? Will 5 times the number of people become addicted after one use? Is it 5 times harder to quit? And how do you measure that?

    Anyone know what’s being measured here?

  5. I’m just putting the finishing touches on my Addictometer right now. The field trials seem to indicate that French Fries are more addictive than any drugs under study.

  6. Exactly, where the hell do they get these addiction percentages? Meth probably isn’t something you want to get into but all this 5 times more addictive than herion and the first time you take it you’re an addict stuff sounds like more exagerated slanted bullshit that always comes out of the DEA.

  7. I wish the press would give more coverage to the fact that statistically, drug abuse is primarily a BOOMER phenomenon. At least here in California, they’re the fastest-growing demographic for both addiction and overdoses.

    Conversely, drug use among the young hasn’t been this low in decades and substance abuse among Gen-Xers is far below that of boomers.

    Are pro-drug war boomers merely overcompensating for the sad (but well-proven) fact that their generation just can’t handle the responsibility of imbibing mind-altering substances without fucking up?

  8. Really destroys people, and doesn’t just kill them with an OD, but tortures them and their loved ones for years in a slow, agonizing death.

    Yeah, alcoholism is a bitch.

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