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The Next Big Thing? Methamphetamine in the United States

June 01, 2006
Ryan King
This report examines the development of methamphetamine as the “next big thing” in drug threats by analyzing drug use rates through a series of different measures, investigating the role of the media in perpetuating the “epidemic” language, and assessing the state-of-the-art in methamphetamine treatment options.

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug that represents a substantial challenge to policymakers, health care professionals, social service providers, and the law enforcement community. Over time, methamphetamine abuse can result in the deterioration of physical and mental capacities, the dissolving of family ties, diminished employment prospects, and a lifetime spent cycling through the criminal justice system.

The consequences of irresponsible drug abuse harm not only the individual, but his or her family and the larger community. Thus, it is important that our public resources be effectively directed to both prevent the development of such a habit as well as treat those individuals before the proverbial die has been cast.

Unfortunately, the American strategy of drug control since the early 20th century has emphasized an approach of prevention based on instilling fear about a substance through dramatized descriptions and images of the consequences of use coupled with a notion of treating people with harsh punishments out-of-step with the harm caused by the drug. Historically, the domestic response to drug use has been to demonize the drug and the people who use it while exaggerating the impact of its use (“You’ll be hooked the first time you try it”). This strategy has been complemented in the past two decades with mandatory minimums, sentencing enhancements, and a ban on access to services such as public housing, income assistance, and federal educational aid as the result of a drug conviction.

Historian David Musto suggests that the incongruity between what people were told about drugs and personal experiences had a critical impact on public perceptions about drug policy beginning in the 1960s. As more people tried drugs and realized that many of the horrific consequences did not result, a mistrust of government statements about drug use began to emerge. There is evidence suggesting that this approach of “prevention through scare tactics” not only fails to diminish drug use, but may undermine public education efforts.

Over the last hundred years, opium, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and crack cocaine have all been the “new” focus of drug enforcement efforts at different points in time. Since 2000, the latest drug occupying media headlines and receiving the disproportionate attention of law enforcement and policymakers is methamphetamine. This report examines the development of methamphetamine as the “next big thing” in drug threats by analyzing drug use rates through a series of different measures, investigating the role of the media in perpetuating the “epidemic” language, and assessing the state-of-the-art in methamphetamine treatment options.

To read the report, download the PDF below.

 
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