OP-EDS

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February 14, 2005

We must stop the spread of meth in U.S.

The war on drugs was never won. We have incarcerated non-violent drug offenders, who are disproportionately black, despite drug users being overwhelmingly white. We have not stopped the steady flow of narcotics into this country from other nations. And dealers continue to push drugs near schools and to prey on kids. And now, there is yet another battle being fought.

And as usual, we're losing.

Methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant, is being produced all over rural America. A narcotic that can be made from cold medicine and farm chemicals, methamphetamine is being used by a steadily-increasing segment of society.

The New York Times ran a story this past week about Katie Neace, a ten-year-old girl in southern Indiana who was murdered. She was drowned, allegedly by a meth dealer who "unintentionally" killed her in an attempt to prevent her from reporting drug-related activities to her parents. This anecdote is only one instance of an exploding epidemic. Ninety percent of crime in the area is drug-related.

In Indiana, seizures of meth labs have quadrupled in the past four years. And it is safe to assume that those raided by the police are only part of what seems to be a vast underground industry. And Indiana is not alone. Methamphetamine is the fastest growing narcotic in the U.S. One out of every five federal arrests deals with this illegal drug. Because of the strong, unique smell of its production, meth is produced in out-of-the-way rural areas, not urban ones.

Small, rural communities are ill-equipped to combat this crisis. With few policemen and citizens reluctant to report on neighbors, small meth labs can be constructed without people finding out.

Katie Neace's abduction and murder have galvanized the local community, but thousands of communities all over the country are not actively trying to eradicate these labs.

Too often, tragedies are needed to trigger policy. But why must we need sensationalism to cause action? Why are we not enacting policy that might prevent these tragedies? Local law enforcement cannot turn away from this illegal narcotics production, even if it means investigating neighbors that they have known for years. The federal and state governments need to supply these communities with the necessary resources.

But methamphetamine production in rural America is part and parcel of a larger problem afflicting the U.S. In the second half of the 20th century, social policies, particularly vice-related ones, were directed at cities. With Reagan's continuous vilification of urban blacks, Americans have been encouraged to see social problems as unique to cities, not endemic to the country. With poverty and drugs tucked far away in urban areas, those of us who live in the suburban or rural areas can project problems onto a place where we do not live, instead of shining the harsh light at home, where those same problems persist.

I do not believe that all Americans think this, nor I do believe that we should necessarily fault those who do not recognize poverty or drugs as national problems. Politicians and pundits led a socially constructed backlash against African-Americans and civil rights that is still alive today. This strategy helped stem the tide of civil rights in the '70s and '80s. In the '90s and even today, conservatives continued to perpetuate that myth, which caused us to ignore many pressing issues such as poverty and drug policy that afflict us all.

So, we continue to give power back to state and local governments in honor of the Reagan devolution. Yet in this era, we do not give state and local governments the resources or the incentives to fight the problem locally. Drug use cannot simply be fought on the local level. It must be a nationwide effort. That does not mean that decisions must be top-down or that solutions will not be tailored to localities, but simply that national problems require national solutions. And national solutions require awareness.

Perhaps that will be the one positive ramification of the explosion of meth use in rural areas. By making communities fight a drug problem that might have been ignored before, but one that is now palpable and ever-increasing, perhaps then, more and more Americans will wake up from this delusional dream and realize that the tale first told by Reagan—a tale that promotes selfishness and discourages compassion—is in fact a myth. Maybe then they'll realize that drugs are killing kids, and that we can do much more to stop it. How many more tragedies have to occur for real action to be taken? Will Katie Neace's murder be a clarion call or simply a harbinger of more to come?