Friday, March 17, 2006

Myths & Madness: the Meth Monster

First, let's be clear: Methamphetamine is a truly shitty drug. It really can cause a host of physical problems for those who use it excessively, it really is dangerous to make on your own, and it really can cause mental instability. However, the number of fools who suffer such a fate is mercifully very small, and it will always be a drug that is not widely abused simply because it really is "dangerous."

On the other hand, as usual, the "dangers" of meth are blown wildly out of proportion and nowhere near as dire as our government would have us believe. Meth use really isn't an "epidemic" running rampant in our society, and making us sign for our cold pills will do absolutely nothing to alter the fact that some small number of people will use methamphetamines for the fun of it.

By now, you should be more than familiar with the litany of government claims about the "threat" that meth poses to our society, but if not, go visit this page on the drug czar's site to refresh your memory. And then continue reading this so you can see how stupid and useless it really is to make believe that any of us are "threatened" by methamphetamines.

Would You Use It?

I don't know what the magic number is that qualifies something as an "epidemic," but if meth use qualifies for that attribute, then the number is incredibly small. You see, the number of people who use methamphetamines is in reality quite low. According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2005), there were only 1.4 million past year users, and 600,000 past month users of methamphetamine in 2004. And only 318,000 were said to have used it for the first time within the 12 month period prior to the survey. That's out of a total potential customer base of 240,515,000 people aged 12 or older. Meth use is on par with adult use of ADHD drugs -- an estimated 1.5 million adults use them along with with 2.5 million children aged 4 (FOUR!!????) to 17. I haven't heard about the "ADHD drug epidemic" have you?

And for the record, initiation of meth use peaked in 1979 (at 465,000 new users) and it's certainly not a new "menace" -- merely one of a recurring merry-go-round of several. So let's do the math. Approximately one-tenth of one percent (0.1) of Americans tried meth for the first time, some one-quarter of one percent (0.25) of Americans are past month users, and some sixth-tenths (0.6) of one percent of Americans used it in the past year (verify). Epidemic? That's not even enough people to keep a crappy television show on the air.

Even People Who Like Drugs Don't Like Meth!

While the numbers above may strike some as a reason to continue the madness of drug war, I have to wonder why we don't hear about the "epidemic of hallucinogen use." Afterall, if meth qualifies, then hallucinogen use must be nearing "pandemic" proportion, since nearly three times as many people (934,000) tried them for the first time in 2004, and nearly 4 million used them in the past year. And marijuana use must surely be some kind of super-cosmic mega-pandemic given its popularity among Americans. For the record, in 2004 there were 34.8 million users of illicit drugs, 1.4 million of whom used methamphetamine, and 25.4 million of whom used marijuana. So even among people who like to use "illicit" drugs, only four percent were involved in the meth epidemic. Hmmmm, so 96 percent of the people who use illicit intoxicants did not use meth. So why am I standing in line and signing for the cold pills I could freely buy over the counter just last year? I say we make the meth users stand in line!

What About Addiction and Various Other Forms of Mayhem?

Given the general air of hysteria surrounding meth, it seems prudent to assess the actual measures of the havoc meth is said to wreak. Especially since mere use, in and of itself, is certainly not a measure of anything other than its (lack of) popularity. But the drug czar tells us that "mentions" of meth in hospital emergency rooms tallied up to 14,696 in 2002 (latest complete data available). Is that an "epidemic" measure? To answer the question we need to do some more simple math.

If every "mention" came from a different meth user then that means that just under one percent (0.95 percent) of past year meth users (2002 past year users: 1,541,000) made a "mention" of it in a hospital somewhere. Huh? That means that 99 percent of past year meth users didn't mention it in a hospital. Hmmmmm. Okay, what about drug rehab?

In 2002, there were 104,481 admissions for methamphetamine out of a user base of 1,541,000 past year users. That works out to about 6.8 percent of the past year users. So once again, an extremely large majority of meth users (93.2 percent) seem to be able to use the drug without ending up in rehab. These numbers simply can't qualify meth use, addiction, etc as anything other than a minor public health problem.

So Now Let's Look At A Real Public Health "Epidemic"

While the numbers above are the fuel for the government inspired and media-hyped boogeyman of the "meth-epidemic," another evil spectre goes largely unremarked. This particular disease afflicts nearly 21 million Americans, some 6 million of whom don't even realize they are "infected." This particular epidemic is said to have cost the United States $132 billion (yes Billion) in 2002, $40 billion of which was "indirect" costs (like lost worker productivity, premature death, etc) and a whopping $92 billion in direct medical costs. In addition, this particular epidemic was the underlying cause of death for 73,249 Americans in 2002, and implicated in the deaths of a total of 224,092 Americans that year.

The epidemic in question? Diabetes. If our nation is willing to engage in the war on drugs to address the "meth epidemic" to what extent will it act to curb the diabetes epidemic? Some 95 percent of all new diabetes cases are "Type 2" diabetes -- which is caused primarily by eating too much and exercising too little. If we win the war against meth, will we next fight a war on diabetes? Will we tolerate pre-dawn no-knock raids in which SWAT teams trash your house looking for sugar? Will there be mandatory exercise and dietary laws passed? Why not? On what grounds do we challenge the government's power to dictate our lives and our health?

If we are willing to accept what is done to combat the "meth epidemic" then we certainly ought to accept the same to combat the "diabetes epidemic" -- shouldn't we? One final note: do a couple of google searches -- one for meth epidemic and one for diabetes epidemic. Meth epidemic returns 883,000 hits, while diabetes epidemic returns 5,320,000 hits. Better drop that donut!

You've been warned.