Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jan 2007
Source: Salt Lake City Weekly (UT)
Copyright: 2007 Copperfield Publishing
Author: Lorna D. Vogt


Thanks to Ben Fulton for recognizing Governor Hunstman's commitment to
battling methamphetamine addiction in Utah. It is time to take a
holistic and compassionate approach to meth by emphasizing treatment
and family unity. But I do take exception to the characterization of
meth as the "fiercest and most dangerous of all illegal drugs" that is
not only physically devastating but also nearly impossible to treat.
There is new research in the January 2007 Journal of Substance Abuse
Treatment that reveals there is little difference between treatment
outcomes for users of methamphetamine and other hard drugs.

Inflammatory language like that is the reason why methamphetamine is
America's latest drug bogeyman. That perception is not supported by
the research literature, much of which can be accessed on the Harm
Reduction Project's website ( It is easy to portray
meth and the people who use it as dirty, disgusting and dangerous
(think back to the words and images we used to describe heroin and
crack cocaine when they were the "epidemic" drugs), but these
portrayals can cloud our decision-making, causing us to create
policies that will backfire or have disastrous unintended
consequences. Thanks to the "crack epidemic," we have
mandatory-minimum sentencing, thousands of children taken from their
families and more money for incarceration instead of treatment. None
of these policies stopped crack, and they won't stop meth.

There is one big difference between crack and meth, however, and that
is the communities it typically affects. Crack was the drug of poor,
urban areas whose residents were mostly black. Meth is the drug of
white and rural communities that are primarily lower income and in the
middle of the country, although the drug is rapidly spreading across
the nation and into diverse populations. The demographics of meth may
change how we respond to it, but that says a lot more about race and
class in America than it says about the drug itself.

Methamphetamine is dangerous and difficult to treat but let's put it
into perspective. Meth is not new--it is the most widely used drug in
the world after cannabis. In the good old days immediately following
World War II it was aggressively marketed to American women as
"mother's little helper." The American military used
methamphetamine-like drugs to keep soldiers moving through the boredom
and exhaustion of combat. All of those moms and soldiers did not turn
into hopeless addicts.

Meth is a powerful stimulant that makes you feel on top of the world,
at least for a little while. The drug is perfectly suited to our
culture where production and performance--sexual, work and
parental--drive us to work long days and believe that we have to do it
all. The pressures on women, in particular, are intense to stay thin,
keep up the house, take care of children, work a full-time job and be
sexually attractive and active. Meth will do all of that, and more, in
the beginning, which is not to dismiss the very real dangers of its
use not only for the user but also for those exposed during production
and to the fallout of addiction.

These women are not demons roving our streets, neglecting their
children and selling themselves to buy their next fix, although all of
those tendencies can happen when people are in the grips of addiction.
We need to distinguish between the drug and the drug user and address
the complexity of the latter's life without hyperbole and distortion.

We cannot use meth as the next convenient dumping ground for our fear
of drug use or to satisfy our need to mete out tough punishment for
those who don't measure up. Meth, like other drugs, is used to cope
with life or for enjoyment, plain and simple. Like any other powerful
and addictive substance, it has the ability to destroy lives. But the
people who use it are not throwaways nor are they beyond help.

We join Fulton in applauding Gov. Hunstman for recognizing that
treatment that keeps families together is a great step in addressing
what is undeniably a disturbing new drug trend in Utah. But in the
process of congratulating ourselves for getting serious about meth,
let's not forget our past or the world in which we live where
expectations to do it all can overwhelm even the strongest of us.

Lorna D. Vogt

Harm Reduction Project deputy director

Salt Lake City
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