Monday, May 25, 2009
Addiction Assumptions: The Meth Epidemic
Who is really at risk?
A simple question: Has meth use in the United States truly reached “epidemic” levels, as is commonly stated by health authorities and drug experts?
The answer depends on how you slice the data, according to sociologist Herbert Covey. For women, unemployed men, and residents of the Western United States, the answer is yes. For African-Americans and citizens of the Northeast, not so much.
In “Prevalence of Use and Manufacture of Methamphetamine in the United States,” published in the Praeger International Collection on Addictions, Dr. Covey first notes that the spread of methamphetamine use is by no means unique to the United States. In Thailand, Covey writes, more than 70 percent of the addict population is composed of meth users.
In the U.S., meth lab busts increased 4,000 percent from 1995 to 2001, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Treatment numbers also soared, but it is not clear whether this trend represents more meth users, or more court-mandated treatment for offenders.
The short answer to the question of who is at primary risk is: women. According to Covey, women of childbearing age represent a severely problematic risk group. Women report using meth at an earlier age, have significantly longer first treatment experiences, and have greater difficulty than men with related issues of employment, child-raising, and job opportunities. (See my post on “Rehab and the Working Mother.”)
Perhaps the most unwelcome finding of all is that “The majority of women [in a major study of gender differences] had children under 18, but most did not live with their children within the last 30 days.”
However, there is a tendency in the media to leap ahead of the data with stories of this sort. Covey and other researchers question the validity of media references to “meth babies” and “ice babies,” recalling the overblown coverage of the “crack baby” epidemic of the 1980s—an epidemic for which, more than two decades later, there is almost no solid evidence. As Covey cautions, “that meth use by pregnant women results in severe health consequences for infants has not been established by medical research.”
As Covey sums it up: “Meth accounts for a small percentage of the total number of people affected by drug and alcohol problems. However, almost all of the data... reveal that meth use, manufacturing and distribution are increasing throughout much of the nation.” In the future, he writes, “The other question is whether meth use will grow in prevalence in minority populations. To date Latino, Hispanic, and African American populations have not embraced meth to the extent that Anglos have. If this changes, the negative effects could be substantial.”
Covey concludes: “Whether the upward spiral of meth use and manufacture continues remains to be seen.”
Photo Credit: The Curvature