The 'Meh' Epidemic

Heartland youth untweaked

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From features in Newsweek and other mainstream media outlets to harrowing books such as the well-received Methland, Americans have been taught for years that methamphetamine is a huge and growing problem for America, particularly its rural teens. But new research shows that the epidemic, if it exists at all, is not hitting heartland youth disproportionately.

A November 2010 study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine analyzed results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which included nearly 18,000 teenagers. It found that rural, suburban, and urban teenagers used the drug at about the same rates.

Less than 1 percent of the kids said they had ever used meth. That, as the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine publication MedPage Today notes, is "compared with roughly 4 percent who reported using hallucinogens, 10 percent saying they had tried inhalants, and 10 percent who had used prescription pain relievers for nonmedical purposes." Nor is the number of meth users on the rise.

"While statistics show that use among teens and middle school students has been the same for the past few years," says a fact sheet on "Meth: America's Homegrown Drug Epidemic" from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "those numbers don't tell the whole story." It's easy to see why the government says that: The numbers don't support the scary story it wants to tell. 

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