No one believes that hundreds of thousands of teenagers and twentysomethings are dying each year from use of methamphetamine, but that is what you’d conclude if you went by numbers published — then later retracted — from a Tennessee anti-meth campaign that continue to be cited by advocates, reports the Wall Street Journal. A site the state’s attorneys general produced last year called “Meth is Death” claimed that “one in seven high school students will try meth,”; “99 percent of first-time meth users are hooked after just the first try”; “only 5 percent of meth addicts are able to kick it and stay away”; and “the life expectancy of a habitual meth user is only five years.”
Connect those numbers, as Reason blogger Jacob Sullum did, and you’ll arrive at a troubling outcome: “We are talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths a year.” The Tennessee site was pulled down and replaced by a new site, MethFreeTN.org, that doesn’t include the numbers. But you can still see the old site on the Internet Archive. The problem is the 99 percent estimate: James Kirby of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Association, says it should have stated that 99 percent of meth addicts were hooked from their first use, not that 99 percent of people who try it get hooked from the first time. Kirby called it “a typo.” The new state Web site significantly dials back its estimate for the percentage of high school students who have tried meth, to 5.6 percent from the 14 percent number on the Meth Is Death site. The new number is in line with what other researchers have found.