Meth Myths


In The American Conservative, heartland meth user Nick King hits some myths about meth. High points:

Taking meth is like joining a secret society. Most users don't talk about those activities to outsiders, but we can communicate all we need to each other, even when surrounded by the uninitiated, with knowing smiles, quick head bobs, subtle sniffs of the nose. Once I became at least a semi-regular consumer of the drug, I discovered that users extended well beyond the speed freaks at Wal-Mart buying lithium batteries at three in the morning. I could read the signs perfectly—the teeth grinding, chain-smoking, darting eyes, and omnipresent bottles of water—and could even spot those members of my town's upper crust who happened to enjoy a rush…..

most of my town's good, God-fearing folk….substituted hysteria for real knowledge of the drug. We walked among them as their employees—or employers, for that matter—neighbors, and friends, but if they had known who we were, they would have descended upon us like a screech owl on a vole. Anyone arrested for meth got his face splashed across the front page of the paper. Within days, even hours, formerly respected members of the community could have their lives ruinedby the drug but by people's perception of it. But regardless of how shocking the upstanding citizens of town found it when one of their own was exposed as a fiend, the revelation never made them question their presumptions…..

For the most part, however, we were not the stereotypical burnouts that people expected this behavior from, nor did we think of ourselves as such. Several of my closest friends and I were in the top decile of our class despite being intoxicated half of our waking lives—frequently including school hours. We were almost all athletes and participated in a number of activities and clubs. For two years, every one of my class's officers was a multiple drug felon.

We were also, by and large, neither poor nor neglected by our parents. Our mothers and fathers were solidly middle-class or, in a few cases, upper-class. They worked as doctors, bankers, teachers, contractors—very few lawyers, oddly—and owned some of the most respected small businesses in town.

King debunks the popular notions that economic woes or boredom led him and his friends to their non-life-destroying drug use, and delivers some well-observed tales of heartland American teens and postteens living a life that just happens to include a lot of drug use–a whole lot more than most people consider normal, but as King tells it he and his buddies just dealt with it as part of life. He concludes:

I didn't fully comprehend how warped my little town was until I moved away for college. I attended an elite Midwestern university, and many of my classmates came from supercilious locales like New York and L.A. For the most part, they thought of my friends and me as half-mad provincials with minds twisted from the tedium of small-town life and adulterated methamphetamine. The same attitude pervades the journalists who cover drug use in rural America. (Reding is exceptional in that he has a small-town pedigree and makes a noble attempt to see through his subjects' eyes. Still, despite his best efforts, he remains an outsider in the places he describes.) They come to find madmen, who are admittedly easy to find, confirm their prejudices, and file their stories confident that they've made a difference. True, they have told the rest of the world more than it ever wanted to know about rural America's underbelly. But they can't tell us the whole truth because they don't know it and never will.

Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote a wonderful book on the matter of normal people leading normal lives that happen to include illegal drug use, Saying Yes. I blogged back in November for Reason on surveys indicating overabuse of meth among rural kids is a myth.