Is Meth Crisis Overblown By News Media?


Is the meth epidemic so serious as Newsweek’s cover story makes it out to be? Media critic Jack Shafer of is dubious. He says that “the leading indicator that a national trend has peaked and has begun its downward trajectory is often its appearance on the cover of one of the newsweeklies.” Shafer asks, “If meth is America’s most dangerous drug, how many people has it killed? Newsweek doesn’t bother to explore the topic, perhaps because it’s so hard to pin down.”

Newsweek cites federal estimates to report that about 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine and 1.5 million are regular users (compared with 2.7 million chronic cocaine users.) Shafer notes that the magazine doesn’t establish whether those numbers are up or down. Accord to the Drug Enforcement Administration, seizures of meth peaked in 1989 at 174 million dosage units. The last year for which the DEA chart records numbers, 2002, shows 118 million dosage units seized. In the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey that asks high schoolers what drugs they’ve taken in the last year. In 1975, 16.2 percent of 12th graders said they’d taken amphetamines over the year. That number peaked at 26 percent in 1981 and bottomed at 7.1 percent in 1992. Methamphetamine arrives on the chart in 1999 at 4.3 percent but dribbled down to 3.4 percent by 2004.


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