Notice that most popular analysis of meth use is conspicuously based on a comparison between people who use meth and people who don’t. Horror stories are told which, granted, are informative and not uncommon, but one might begin to think that there is only one kind of meth use. This is akin to presenting the most destitute alcoholic as an example of ‘what alcohol use does’. Not what it can do but what it unequivocally does. I point this out because very few people could fail to see through this logic when applied to alcohol, and yet most buy it hook, line, and sinker, when it’s applied to meth. When we observe emaciated, addicted, destitute individuals, when we observe damage to mental health, the most important thing to know about these people is surely not that they use meth, but the particular pattern and context of their meth use. We should wonder just how large a share of meth users these stories comprise. And we should identify what makes these patterns and contexts damaging, and conversely what makes other patterns and contexts relatively benign.
Usually the factors which make particular patterns of meth use damaging are obvious. Val Kilmers documentary talks about workers on oil rigs who, the documentary alleges, use meth to work for a week without break. This parallels a popular story in cheap non-fiction and mass produced documentaries, the particulars of which change from case to case: people correctly identify the amazing implications methamphetamine has for productivity, they feel (as meth makes one feel) that they’re superhumanly able, and they stay up and work or party for preposterous lengths of time with no sleep and often no food. Apparently people who use the drug like this sometimes die. Well fuck; who’d of thought, right?
We’ve acknowledged the spectre of the problem drug user, now lets put him in context. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 3% of people who have tried meth had smoked it in the previous month. Patterns of crack use have been more alarming, but even at the peak of its popularity only 10-20 percent of users became addicted. Even during the period of history when drugs like cocaine and heroin were freely available, which some historians, with their characteristic zeal for objectivity, have taken to calling “the Great Binge,” only a small minority of the population were addicted
Still, there are some concessions to be made. Even 3% addiction rates have proven to be quite damaging to a lot of people and a lot of towns. This is still a serious problem, and we need to think about solutions. In this, I think, is the key to sympathizing with some propagandists against drug use and for prohibition: they are responding to the human suffering they have observed with policies and agendas they believe will alleviate it. They’re just badly informed. I was slightly touched by the explanation given by the creator of Faces of Meth in Val Kilmer’s documentary, about what he does and why he does it:
“My greatest hope for my project, is that young people will see it- that one young person will see it and say, ‘you know what, that’s not for me’. The feeling of disgust associated with that drug will carry over into that child’s life, so that when someone passes him or her the pipe, he or she will say no without a second thought…
Appearance is important at that age; you gotta have the right kinda shoes, and you gotta have the right kind of clothes, and if you’re a parent, boy, you sure know that. So all I did was play on something that kids found very important, and that got their attention long enough for me to give them an education, and uh…that’s, that’s the best I can do.”
The sincerity is written on his face. He is doing the best he can to alleviate a real problem. But what kind of education is he giving them? Well, it isn’t a lasting education for two simples reasons: the disgust for meth he wishes to instill is ill-informed (with regards to the drug itself, not to the chronic addiction he paints as definitional of the drug), and a feeling rather than an actual education, and more importantly it is a feeling which I can tell you is obliterated by 20 milligrams of methamphetamine. That is fundamental to developing a better education. If their old, dishonest education is obliterated the moment they step into drug use or drug culture, then we’re leaving them totally unequipped. The question, obviously, is what tools will help people when they reach this point, as they invariably do. “Don’t do meth” didn’t work; they’re doing meth. Can we tell them how to do it more safely now?
I know it’s not as simple as deciding not to be lethally stupid with your drug use, sometimes, but I’d like to propose a hypothesis at this point. I believe that if people who desire the boost in productivity meth inspires were well enough informed, they could responsibly use it for this purpose. Clearly the first thing to understand is that human beings, get this, need to eat and sleep. Don’t stay awake for more than 24 hours, that’s stupid. Don’t use any drug for more than 12 hours straight, at the very outside. Eat. For the love of God, EAT! Don’t smoke it, and don’t habitually redose. Eat fifteen or twenty milligrams in the morning, maybe even a little at lunchtime, but that’s enough. Respect the law of diminishing returns: the more meth you do, the less meth will do for you. Take conservative doses (it’s a powerful drug anyway), and not every day – for the sake of your tolerance, your wallet, and your future. Granted, it is sometimes not that simple, but I believe most adults are perfectly capable of following this advice, and I believe further that very few have ever been given it.
This represents a subtle but fundamental shift in the way we educate people. While the Madison Avenue style propaganda discussed above is essentially targeted broadly, and at people who probably have no interest in methamphetamine, this idea means delivering education about methamphetamine to those who would benefit from it most: those considering trying it, and those who already use it. It involves taking information vital to the safety of a particular demographic, making it simple and digestible, and effectively delivering it to that demographic. I think it’s safe to say that targeted education would probably achieve better results than Madison Avenue style propaganda.
For more solutions, we might look to the factors which led to it taking off so strongly in the midwest United States. And we might also keep in mind that catering to a valid need or desire is not inherently unethical – meth, it has to be acknowledged, creates jobs, and could do so more responsibly and peacefully if it were legal.
Anyway, the meth trend in the Midwest US had a lot to do with economic depression. It was a rare growth market in an otherwise stagnant economy, the plainest implication of which is that it was (and is) capable of lifting large numbers of people out of poverty. In addition, and this goes some way towards explaining the previous fact, it allowed struggling people to work the incredible hours that conditions, engendered by their government, demanded of them. Taken together, these two facts suggest that problem meth use would not be as widespread as it is had the worker not been systematically disenfranchised for the last few hundred years. This is one significant solution to the ‘meth problem’ people observe: in addition to better education, we can cease to create the conditions in which problem meth use thrives.
This is important: drug users make rational choices. A lot of the popular knowledge about addiction derives in part from thoroughly flawed experiments, in which a rat is taken from its natural environment, is deprived of all stimulus, can only use a drug and -suprise, suprise- does so frequently. Later experiments have demonstrated that test subjects can and do choose other stimulus over drugs – when given a viable alternative means to their end, they will pass up drugs. Something else we can do, then, is to provide such alternatives, so that drugs like meth and crack don’t have to bare the full weight of our legitimate desires.
In short, unbiased and targeted education, economic freedom, and a robust civil society are capable of rendering meth benign to society – as it is already benign to the majority of people who use it.