In August 2005, when Newsweek reported the spread of a national methamphetamine “epidemic” in a cover story, Jack Shafer of Slate.com wrote 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.” On January 26, the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health released results from a survey that showed meth use had “declined overall between 2002 and 2005” and that the number of “initiates”– people using the drug for the first time in the 12 months before the survey–had decreased between 2004 and 2005.
One would imagine that after publishing and broadcasting a steady stream of stories about the unstoppable meth ascendance that editors would have been eager to share the government’s latest findings with readers. As of last Wednesday, Shafer could not find a single news story or television transcript in the Nexis database that reported the measured meth decline. (Crime & Justice News did report on it.) It may not be a perfect survey, says Shafer, but it’s the survey we’ve got, and it’s one of the surveys the press turns to when it’s time to herald the increase in drug use.