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February 15, 2006 - Miami Herald (FL)

Frontline: The Meth Epidemic - 10 To 11 Tonight

Note: This is a review of the Frontline (PBS) program for Feb 15

By Glenn Garvin

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Want the straight dope on meth? It's not an epidemic, usage is not increasing, and anybody who tells you otherwise is a liar.

Sadly, that includes the PBS documentary series Frontline, which tonight airs an episode titled The Meth Epidemic that seems to have been pasted together from old Reefer Madness outtakes.

Meth, or methamphetamine, is the latest drug-scare story from the same people who brought you LSD-crazed hippies going blind from staring at the sun, crackhead baby sitters roasting babies in the microwave and Jimmy the 9-year-old heroin addict.

Everybody from Newsweek to Investor's Business Daily (honest!) has been running stories lately about how meth use is spreading through America like wildfire, and tonight Frontline joins the crowd.

Here's a fact that never, ever appears in any of these stories: The U.S. government's own National Survey on Drug Use and Health says that from 2002 to 2004, the last year for which data is available, meth use did not increase at all. Nada, nothing, zero, zip.

What's more: The average age of first-time use during that period increased from 18 to 22, which means that another major component of Frontline's "epidemic" -- that meth users are indoctrinating their children into the abuse of the drug, turning them into a prehooked junkie generation -- is also purely fictional.

Oh, and those 1.5 million meth addicts Frontline mentions -- well, don't waste your time trying to find them. When you actually look up the National Survey on Drug Use statistics, that's the number of Americans who have ever, at any time in their lives, tried meth.

The closest thing to a figure for addicts is the survey's number of people who used meth in the past month, which is about 600,000. If that's an epidemic, then so is the Home Shopping Channel.

But there's no use trying to confuse Frontline with facts when the same old drug-horror stories of murder, rape and really bad hair days (lots of scary-looking police mug shots in this show) are so much more fun.

Lurid phrases like "the meth crime wave" and "the most addictive drug there is" are tossed around with the faintest attempt to back them up with evidence.

There's even an interview with a meth-head from Portland, Ore., who insists, without contradiction: "I think meth has destroyed this community. I think, in all reality, they need to take a bomb and blow it all up, it's that bad." Luckily for Portland, budget cuts have grounded PBS' fleet of B-1s.

The bombing of Portland is only slightly more extreme than most of the policy suggestions that come up in Frontline. Though the program didn't have time for a single interview with a meth-epidemic skeptic, it drags out every nutty drug warrior it can find in support of shutting down the production of pseudoephedrine, the chemical from which meth is most easily manufactured.

If pseudoephedrine sounds familiar, that's because it's the active ingredient of most allergy and cold medicines. Frontline's drug Rambos say that anybody who buys those medicines should have to register with the government.

There's an epidemic here, all right -- of lunacy. And bad journalism is not the cure.

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