July 18, 2005

CSM Does Meth

Haven't been doing much meth-blogging of late, so here we go. Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor tries to show that meth is, in fact, rising as a problem, but as we've discussed before, the statistics are sadly ambiguous on this point. Nevertheless, he brings together three other important points:
  1. "[A] study by the National Conference of State Legislatures finds that 10 percent of users were introduced to meth by their parents or other family members." Though I don't know how that compares to other drugs, I would guess that its higher than most everything but, obviously, cigarettes and alcohol.
  2. Women are more likely to lose meth than men—perhaps because it's a weight loss drug, the theory goes. ("One federal survey of people arrested for all crimes found that 11.3 percent of women had used meth within the prior month compared with 4.7 percent of men.")
  3. Even if, nation-wide, the meth problem isn't increasing per se—again, we just don't know—it is moving further north and further east, which explains the recent media spotlight. There were more meth lab incidents last year in Illinois than in California.
  4. Treatment is horribly lackluster. "[O]nly 16 percent of counties surveyed have a meth rehabilitation center, which means that for most charged, jail is the only option."
#4 is the most troubling. What else do we have besides treatment? A reporter friend who lives in Northern California pointed out to me over the weekend that any serious meth-response strategy would have to involve cracking down on the superlabs in California; the decentralized mini-labs at home account for only 20 percent of the supply, after all. (Although they may account for a disproportionate percentage of meth-related problems, like counterfeiting and violence. I don't know.) That's true as far as it goes, but when has the United States ever cracked down on drug supplies abroad effectively? Very rarely.

The problems on this front seem to be twofold: first, because of exchange rates and markups and whatnot, disrupting the supply abroad only has a very limited effect on the price of drugs, and hence the demand, here at home. Indeed, a RAND report discusses lessons learned from the war on cocaine in the 1990s: "domestic enforcement was one-third again as cost-effective as interdiction and three times as cost-effective as source country control." The other point is that I wouldn't be surprised if interdiction, etc., abroad will become increasingly difficult as globalization continues, shipping costs go down, more goods enter the borders which means fewer goods can be checked, etc., etc.

Now one bright side: although there have been only a very few "successes" in source-country control, one of them occurred in Mexico, with the spraying of marijuana crops starting in 1975. So Mexico can be quite helpful. Unfortunately, it would have been infinitely better to have Mexican drug cartels growing pot than manufacturing meth. Which brings us back to our original question: did the war on marijuana help contribute to the rise in meth production and/or addiction?
-- Brad Plumer 3:18 PM || ||