Amphetamines can certainly do harm and are a fad in some places. But there’s little evidence of a new national epidemic from patterns of drug arrests or drug use. The percentage of high school seniors using amphetamines has remained fairly constant in the past decade, and actually declined slightly the past two years.
Nor is meth diabolically addictive. If an addict is someone who has used a drug in the previous month (a commonly used, if overly broad, definition), then only 5 percent of Americans who have sampled meth would be called addicts, according to the federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
That figure is slightly higher than the addiction rate for people who have sampled heroin (3 percent), but it’s lower than for crack (8 percent), painkillers (10 percent), marijuana (15 percent) or cigarettes (37 percent). Among people who have sampled alcohol, 60 percent had a drink the previous month, and 27 percent went on a binge (defined as five drinks on one occasion) during the month…
In Georgia they’re prosecuting dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and managers for selling cold medicine and other legal products. As Kate Zernike reported in The Times, some of them spoke little English and seemed to have no idea the medicine was being used to make meth.
The prosecutors seem afflicted by the confused moral thinking that Mr. Bennett blames on narcotics. “Drugs,” he wrote, “undermine the necessary virtues of a free society – autonomy, self-reliance and individual responsibility.”
If you value individual responsibility, why send a hard-working clerk to jail for not divining that someone else might manufacture a drug? And why spend three decades repeating the errors of Prohibition for a drug that was never as dangerous as alcohol in the first place?
Are the authorities simply creating a new bogeyman in the never-ending war on your neighbor? Mark Kleiman says the concern over methamphetamines is appropriate.
*** Update ***
Any discussion of drug policy in the NY Times and other prominent publications gets the description of ‘great’ from me. Even if you hate John Tierney. This is an issue we need to discuss, so even if John Tierney is wrong (as Mark Kleiman asserts and I linked, because I trust Mark on these issues to honestly present facts), this is a great piece. Of course, I am sure there are some of you who would rather read a Maureen Dowd piece explaining that the plot lines in Desperate Housewives show that Bush sucks.
*** Update ***
Another piece here in the Chicago Tribune.