This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
With their open sores, sunken cheeks, glazed-over eyes and decaying teeth, the faces of meth addicts bear a striking resemblance to ones in a popular TV series – “The Walking Dead.”
Law enforcement agencies and treatment providers want the public to see these zombie-like faces and to understand that the horrible toll meth takes on users doesn’t happen over decades. Before-and-after photos on the Multnomah County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Department and rehabs.com websites chronicle the physical damage meth addiction can cause in a short time, sometimes less than two years.
Young people especially need to see these faces. They may have a sense of invulnerability when it comes to tobacco, whose damage to the lungs and other organs is long-term and usually not visible. But meth’s destruction is rapid and, literally, in your face.
Meth use among U.S. teens has declined since 1999, when 4.7 percent of high school students reported having used it within the past year. That number fell to 1.2 percent in 2009, possibly due to publicity over meth’s highly addictive nature and legislative efforts to tighten access to meth-making ingredients.
But the decline in meth use has stalled, and that’s a concern because of the huge amounts of the drug that are now coming in from Mexico. Adding to the problem are the closer ties being forged by Mexican drug cartels and American gangs. U.S. Customs agents are seizing roughly double the amount of meth flowing in from Mexico than they did a year ago.
In some communities now, meth is abused more than cocaine, crack and prescription pills – and it’s scarier to law enforcement. Meth addicts will do just about anything to get the drug, and it can lead to psychotic, violent behavior. The South Sound, which has long had a problem with meth use and manufacture, is particularly vulnerable because it’s directly on the meth pipeline, thanks to Interstate 5.
There’s a very real danger that the cartels’ greater involvement with meth smuggling will make the drug easier and cheaper to get. Schools, parents and others concerned about drug use are focusing now on the effects of marijuana legalization. But it would be a mistake to forget about that much more dangerous, more addictive drug – meth.