The United States of Meth


Every person I’ve spoken to lately has some kind of personal drug story, either opioids or meth. Vets with PTSD who pill mill doctors take advantage of to fill prescriptions for astonishing quantities of Oxycontin. Teenage daughters disappearing to St. Louis, the last they ever heard from them, right after meth moved into the neighborhood. People getting their houses emptied out by gangs of addicts, kids in the streets of even the smallest towns looking haggard and filthy. Cops on the take. In West Virginia I saw skeletal 17-year-old girls in torn old leopard print tights trying desperately to hook in parking lots. There was a meth head in Arco, Idaho who was too jacked up to rob me at an empty truck stop, but he was going to try. He looked just like any other kid off a ranch. It’s everywhere.

The worst I’ve seen it was in East Liverpool, Ohio, where no one seems to chance walking around downtown but the addicts. It was a rich town once, but now there are parts of it where one house after the other is half-torn down what with everything from old fireplaces to doorknobs torn out to be sold for a few bucks, more people in the ratty old sweats that make up the uniform of the modern junkie, casing cars in the parking lots of the supermarket, checking the doors to see if they’re open and there’s anything to steal, eyeing you to see if you might be a mark for a few bucks, but I’m sure there are another thousand towns just like it. I grew up in New York City, and even though there were lots of muggings, it was never as bad as that. I heard about meth heads in Pennsylvania who kidnapped dogs at highway rest stops as long as they were wearing tags with numbers to call for ransom. A cop who pulled me over for no reason told me it was because of all the meth trouble they were having.

Out in the country, it’s the farm kids, their neighbors, their parents. Everyone nods with understanding when someone describes the way a property gets run down when someone starts on meth. The dogs get tied to trees, the horses start to show their ribs.

Reading about this stuff in the paper is one thing, but when you get as close a look at America as I’ve had over the past few years, you see how bad it really is. And it is bad. This is not a crime wave. This isn’t about weak character. This is about brain science, and we better start treating it like the epidemic it is, not a crime wave. The war on drugs is just another war on the poor. The crime is caused by the disease and by those who make billions from it, from the Oxycontin family to the private prison contractors. And now that we’re leaving it in the hands of Trump’s crooked son-in-law to figure out, nothing will happen. They’re probably in on it.

A lot of good people are going down.