Slate’s Shafer: Is ‘Meth Mouth’ Another Myth?


Media critic Jack Shafer writes in Slate: “For the last year, a moral panic about methamphetamine and its users has been gathering force, and last week it peaked as…Newsweek magazine joined the crusade with a cover story. Calling methamphetamine ‘America’s Most Dangerous Drug,’ the magazine also portrayed its use as ‘epidemic.’ In typical moral-panic fashion, Newsweek offered no data to anoint meth as the deadliest of drugs, nor did it prove its assertion that meth use is spreading like a prairie fire. Instead, the magazine relied almost exclusively on anecdotes from law enforcement officials, anti-drug politicians, and users (current and reformed) to stir up emotions against meth and meth-heads.

“If you were to reduce the current moral panic to a single image, it would be a photo of a meth user whose gums are pus-streaked and whose rotting teeth–what teeth he still has–are blackened and broken. The affliction, tagged ‘meth mouth’ in scores of articles, earns a prominent place in Newsweek’s Grand Guignol coverage…Although users have been snorting, smoking, injecting, and swallowing methamphetamine in great quantities for more than 40 years, the phrase meth mouth is brand new.” Shafer goes on to the dissect the phenomenon since its first mention in Investor’s Business Daily on Jan. 31, 2003.


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