The Devastating Effects of a New Drug Crisis

Readers responding to our Aug. 8 cover story on methamphetamine use provided more anecdotal evidence to suggest that meth has indeed become "America's most dangerous drug." A child-advocacy volunteer in Colorado estimated that "50 percent of my caseload involves families where a parent is involved in meth use." A judge in California said, "Methamphetamine is the No. 1 drug problem that I see in court." Others related personal stories of being hooked. One woman, who has been clean for 15 months, said her addiction took her by surprise: "I still don't know how it happened. I was class president for two years; I was a cheerleader; I was popular and well liked by teachers and parents." But some thought the meth crisis was overstated, especially compared with other addictions. Said one, "The harm from tobacco and alcohol dwarfs the panoply of illegal drugs that produce no tax revenue and cost billions in bootless efforts to stop them."

The Meth Scourge

Bravo to NEWSWEEK for its thorough and informative cover story on the methamphetamine epidemic ("America's Most Dangerous Drug," Aug. 8). Our emergency department sees the destroyed lives and bodies from this newest plague more and more. Your article should be required reading for all health-care professionals, teachers, parents and students. Its clarity might well keep someone from taking that first step toward the precipice.
James A. Harrell, M.D., F.A.C.E.P.
Louis Smith Memorial Hospital
Lakeland, Ga.

Thank you for telling America that Meth is a killer. Our son took his own life due to the effects it created within a very short time. Arizona has been trying to put new laws into effect, but a few legislators are being wooed by the drug companies not to support the effort. It all gets back to the almighty dollar, not the lives of our kids.
Mike Sabol
Phoenix, Ariz.

This nation's enormous drug and violence problems are a direct result of our government's failure to curb the wide-spread, sustained demand for drugs. America's children get an early introduction to mind-altering, addictive substances. Since drug use by schoolchildren is a major national health crisis, we advocate that Congress soon mandate the legal, effective and popular strategy of random student drug testing. It is a widely used, proven method to deter kids' drug use and to identify--solely for treatment purposes--those currently using dangerous drugs. Such a public-health response to America's meth and other drug problems is warranted by the failure of education, interdiction and punitive criminal-justice strategies to eliminate this national health crisis.
DeForest Rathbone, Chairman
National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy
Great Falls, Va.

Ten years. That's how long I've been clean from methamphetamine, and it still haunts me. Ten years later I still refuse to take cold medicines containing pseudo-ephedrine. Ten years later I still think about the high. My story is no different from thousands of others': at the conclusion of my addiction, I had dropped from 190 to 140 pounds and was beginning to look like a walking skeleton. While the sex was great when I was just starting meth, later in my addiction I was unable to perform. While I avoided most of the side effects of the drug--the pockmarked face, missing teeth and a diminishing hairline--what meth did to me mentally, emotionally and physically is undeniable. Many users of meth have had bad childhood issues, or are involved in a situation they wish they were rid of: a bad relationship, poverty or underemployment. Meth makes all the bad go away due to its effect on the body's dopamine receptors. I didn't care about my problems, my family issues or my relationships. In the end, I didn't care about myself. I remember feeling at the time that if I shot too much meth and ended up in a fatal overdose, that would be just fine by me. How did I stop? I just decided that I didn't like where my life was heading, and I went on one last binge. After chasing that last ultimate high for three days, I realized that I was never going to attain it and put the needle down for good. But it haunts me to this day. All I need is just one more hit.
Joel Stevens
via internet

The pictures in your article turned my stomach. Congratulations for having the courage to print them, to show the truth about drug abuse and not sugarcoat it for fear of offending someone.
Rachelle C. Gundel
Lancaster, Pa.

I take offense at the comment by Tom Riley, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in your expose on methamphetamines. It is the ignorance of people like him, believing that people are " 'crying meth' because it is a hot, new drug" rather than uncovering the truth and doing something about it, that has led this country to its problems with meth. Nine years ago, my 15-year-old son tried meth. The first time he smoked it he was hooked. How do I know this? Because eight years ago his meth supplier became angry with him, got high on the drug and proceeded to shoot him in the head and then torch his corpse. This happened in a tiny community in Iowa--a place that has seen its share of this drug destroy families. The state and local authorities in Iowa, and in many other states, have been well aware of the meth trend for some time now and have done laudable things to try and stem the tide. It's time for Riley and his czar boss, along with the rest of the federal government, to get their collective heads out of the sand and take on the real war in this country.
Joni Tanaciev
La Plata, Md.

Your magazine asks, "Is the United States fighting the right drug war?" My question is, "Has the United States ever fought a 'right' drug war?" Your magazine and other publications hyped the evils of crack in the 1980s and heroin chic in the 1990s. The result? We are stuck with horribly oppressive laws that have led to the jailing of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders, many ruined lives and the same amount of drugs pouring into the United States. Like crack and heroin, the meth "epidemic" will fade on its own. In the meantime, we don't need opportunistic pols looking to get points by demanding we get "tough on crime" with ineffective laws that violate the Bill of Rights. Your magazine does nothing to inspect the underlying causes of drug abuse--poverty, lack of education, etc.--and instead focuses on sensational pictures.
Tye Wolfe
Ithaca, N.Y.

While local governments are struggling with a methamphetamine epidemic, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is spending millions on a reefer-madness-revisited ad campaign. The biggest lie to come out of the ONDCP is that new, potent strains of marijuana allegedly make pot a far more dangerous drug. This is nonsense. Potent strains of marijuana and concentrated hashish have been around for millennia. The only difference between weak and strong marijuana is that potent marijuana requires significantly less smoke inhalation to achieve the desired effect. It's actually less harmful. The resources wasted on the ONDCP's misleading anti-marijuana campaign would be better spent on treatment for meth addicts.
Robert Sharpe, M.P.A.
Policy Analyst, Common Sense for Drug Policy
Washington, D.C.

There is a "meth epidemic" sweeping the nation with verifiably harmful social consequences that receives less attention from the federal government than marijuana, which is nonlethal and less harmful to society than tobacco or alcohol. Since the Supreme Court recently clarified that medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law, this means that more tax dollars are spent investigating people who provide marijuana to sick people than those who blow up residences by negligently cooking methamphetamine. Amazing.
Kenneth Michael White
Upland, Calif.

As the manager of an intensive outpatient program for people in substance- abuse recovery in rural Indiana, I've witnessed firsthand the devastation wreaked by meth on families. I was pleased to see the epidemic getting cover recognition by NEWSWEEK. However, the article lacked substance regarding treatment options. Research on drug and alcohol prevention doesn't strongly support the use of scare tactics (such as your striking anatomy visuals), but it does support raising self-esteem and helping people discover purpose and meaning in their lives. I am thankful for positive groups such as Moms Off Meth and legislation restricting over-the-counter medication, but until we examine our core bigger-faster-more-now values, it will be hard to resist the seduction of meth or the next "fix it" drug to come along.
Christopher Bibby, Psychologist
Hamilton Center, Inc.
Sullivan, Ind.

Terry Silvers became hooked on meth, quit his job of 19 years to avoid treatment, physically assaulted his wife in the presence of his daughter and is now in jail on charges of manufacturing meth. Yet David J. Jefferson characterizes Silvers as "one of the victims in this war." Silvers is a "victim"? Please! He is paying the consequences for his extremely poor decisions, but his wife and children are the real victims.
Keith Norris
Louisville, Ky.

Your cover story captured the devastating impact of methamphetamine, which is certainly borne out by our experience at Phoenix House. The percentage of teenage meth admissions to our Los Angeles program has risen sharply, so that fully 30 percent of our adolescent clients last year reported meth as their primary drug of abuse--up from 18 percent in 2002. Federal and local law-enforcement agencies have done a tremendous job responding to the meth crisis, but they will be the first to acknowledge that they alone cannot solve the problem. The communities most threatened by meth tend to be those in which treatment is most difficult to access. Arkansas, which has been hit hard by meth, currently has only 49 residential-treatment beds for adolescents with serious substance-abuse problems. The challenge is not only to increase treatment availability, but to ensure that the treatment provided is of sufficient duration. Research studies show that drug abusers stand a better chance of remaining drug-free the longer they stay in treatment. Our clinicians report that meth users are particularly difficult to treat during their first 30 days, but once this period passes, they respond to treatment just as well as users of other drugs.
Mitchell S. Rosenthal, M.D.
President, Phoenix House
New York, N.Y.

Choice Advocates Gear Up

I have always been struck by the fact that those protesting Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood are largely older persons and men ("Roe's Army Reloads," Aug. 8). These people will never have their lives changed by the decision of whether to keep a pregnancy. Who are they to lay down judgment (and the law!) on those who will have to make that decision? I also do not see them adopting unwanted children in droves. I know personally that the decision is not one that is taken lightly and is something you live with for the rest of your life. We should honor those young women who will have to make that choice by taking the politics out of their lives and allowing them to make the decision that is best for them--without shame, persecution or picket lines. This is not a pro-abortion stance, but a humane and logical one.
Athene Grant
Sarasota, Fla.

"Roe's Army" is fighting on the wrong battlefield. Your article illuminated this by featuring a spread of abortion exit- poll data in an article about a Supreme Court nominee. The abortion debate is to be fought in the legislative branch of government. In a federalist democracy, the Supreme Court's task is to interpret the law--not create it. Our task as citizens is to elect representatives who will legislate our initiatives. Only sore losers in this initial electoral battle turn to other branches of government and whine for handouts that those branches are not constitutionally ordained to give.
Amy L. Turek
Wheaton, Ill.

Protect Those Who Protect Us

Anna Quindlen gave the most accurate reflection on returning veterans I have read ("Scrap Metal, Not Soldiers," Aug. 8). America needs to remember that wars end but all veterans of traumatic combat spend their lives--that's 40 to 60 years--paying for the war, whether they have physical or emotional scars. I've spent 36 years in a wheelchair because of Vietnam, a war most now say shouldn't have occurred. But we should remember that it's about veterans' sacrifice, not the merits of the war. Quindlen says correctly that that is one thing we've learned. Unlike her, though, I'm not so sure that America won't forget.
Ken Tauer
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

I do not often agree with Anna Quindlen, but her recent column was right on the mark: we as a nation had best learn to take care of those who take care of us. The average sailor, Marine, soldier or airman typically enlists for a confusing set of reasons that emerge from one's own personal stew of idealism, patriotism and realism. They also trust that their leaders--civilian or uniformed--will not chance to waste their lives. It will take history to tell us if Iraq was the wrong war. Regardless of that conclusion, we must take care of those girls and boys who volunteered for what they believed was right and, in return, have been physically or mentally injured. If our civil and military leaders do not recognize their obligation, then they are not leaders and we, the citizenry, have failed.
John Backer, Commander
United States Naval Reserve
Creston, Calif.

"Scrap Metal, Not Soldiers" was an excellent article. The actual wait for VA help was just more than a year for me. The biggest problem is rescheduling appointments. You cannot schedule one unless it is within a 30-day period, which means it could take forever. You are told: "No appointments available, call back." This cycle is repeated each time you call back. The doctors are not notified that you have called, and thus they are unaware that you need an appointment for refills on your prescriptions, blood work, whatever. I had to have my senator schedule my appointment, but you can imagine the chaos this would create if all vets tried this. Once I was in the system, however, the care was outstanding.
Robert B. Hall
West Valley City, Utah

Anna Quindlen hit the nail on the head in regard to past governmental treatment of military personnel and the current policies of this administration. Quindlen would perform a great service if she'd just write a follow-up article on the betrayal of WWII- and Korean War-era military retirees. They fight to get the lifetime medical care for themselves and their dependents that the government promised as an inducement for them to devote at least 20 years of their lives to serving this country. These vets are dying in increasing numbers while, year after year, a Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act is introduced in Congress with no positive results. In the previous 108th Congress there were 257 sponsors and cosponsors of a similar bill that was not permitted to come up for a vote by the House's Republican leadership. So much for President Bush's "a promise made is a promise kept." The government admitted in open court that these promises were made. Unfortunately, the court, while sympathetic, ultimately ruled that only Congress could correct this injustice.
Keith W. Bird
Minot, N.D.

Fending Off Bears

Your Tip Sheet article has a photo of a black bear and says that a person should play dead if attacked ("When Bears Attack!" Aug. 8). This is good advice in some cases with a grizzly bear, but it shouldn't be used if you are attacked by a black bear. Rather, you should fight back, jump up and down, wave your arms and yell. If you play dead, you may not be "playing" very long.
Jim Mackall
Norwich, Vt.

By using a picture of an American black bear that could be perceived as threatening, you encourage unnecessary fear. Yes, these animals are wild. Yes, if a human threatens or antagonizes them, they could fight back. The reality, however, is that black bears will always choose to run rather than fight. They do not share the same aggressive nature as the grizzly bear, and statistically they have far more to fear from us than we have to fear from them. I am fortunate enough to live in a secluded rural area and have daily contact with black bears. They are magnificent, gentle creatures that simply want to enjoy the land that is theirs, too. Hunters love any justification for their killing sprees. By spreading unnecessary fear about an animal, you play right into their hands.
Mina Yindra
Bellefonte, Pa.


In "How To Fix School Lunch" (Aug. 8), Susan Combs was misidentified as Texas Education commissioner. She is commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture. NEWSWEEK regrets the error.