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Methamphetamine or “Meth” as we more affectionately call it has been in our collective consciousness in northern Nevada for at least the last 5 or 6 years. We’ve been exposed to stories of thin, unkempt young people with scab and pock marked faces, dental issues that defy description (and that are a major gross out), and an insatiable compulsion to use the drug despite the inevitable consequences. We have been shown people who give up spouses, careers, and even their children to use this scourge of a drug.

Beginning in about 2005, the Washoe County community rose up in heroic fashion to face this menace to our children and to our very way of life. So much has been done, including millions of state dollars allocated by the Legislature in 2007 to increase prevention and treatment efforts, formation of the Washoe County based Meth Community Response Alliance in 2005, media campaigns such as “Crystal Darkness” beginning in early 2007, the “Break Free, Live Free” video produced by the Washoe County School District and shown to thousands of students in 2005 and 2006, the statewide “Most of Us” media campaign, a full spread in the Reno Gazette Journal in 2005, community trainings, and so much more. For quite some time, Meth was the “talk of the town.” To our credit as a community, we rose up and met the challenge and, in my opinion, we have been successful.

We can see that lifetime use and use in the last 30 days of Meth by Washoe County students has gone down. Meth related admissions to treatment facilities skyrocketed in 2004-08 but now have evened out. Many youth report that they think of Meth as a “dirty” and dangerous drug. Meth labs, those iconic symbols of all that is wrong with Meth use, have all but disappeared in Washoe County and in Nevada. All of this is cause for celebration. I believe we could build a great case based on the information I just provided that the Meth problem has been significantly impacted by all of our efforts.

But has Meth really gone away? I think if you ask the average person, they’ll say, “Sure, it’s on the way out.” In fact, I really think that many people not only think that Meth is becoming passe but they also are a little tired of talking about Meth as a topic. You might say that it’s old

However, if you are of the opinion that Meth has been “whipped,” consider this:

1. In January of this year, the Reno Police Department confiscated 15 pounds of Meth in one arrest. That’s really a lot of dope! They’ve had at least one other large bust this year and others which I’m not aware. Check the police blotter in your local paper and see if Meth is mentioned in any of the arrests.
2. Treatment centers in Washoe County and northern Nevada are still treating people with a primary diagnosis of amphetamine abuse or amphetamine dependence, meaning that there are still people out there using the drug and having trouble with it.
3. Anecdotally, I still hear almost daily about people that have a current Meth problem.

Despite these facts, I still say that what we all have been doing to address Meth has helped but the real issue is not whether we are going to win this “War on Meth.” I don’t even like to call it a war because this is something that has been with us off and on since amphetamine was first developed in the 1880s. We aren’t going to totally conquer it but we are going to cause use to go down and we are going to help people get the help they need to address their problems with the drug.

With the emerging prescription drug trend, it’s easy to forget about Meth. It’s easy to be tired of talking about it. “Haven’t we already dealt with that?” But while we begin to address prescription drug use, we need to keep our eyes on Meth to make sure that the gains we’ve
made stay there and that we can make even more progress in that arena.