Criminal Studies: Meth isn’t the new crack

The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research organization, concludes in its recent report, Methamphetamine; The Next Big Thing?, that the public perceptions and media exaggerations of a meth epidemic have affected drug policy and sentencing of offenders.

The report summary lists its major findings.

• Methamphetamine is among the least commonly used drugs
> Only 0.2% of Americans are regular users of methamphetamine.
> Four times as many Americans use cocaine on a regular basis and 30 times as many use marijuana.

• Rates of methamphetamine use have remained stable since 1999
> The proportion of Americans who use methamphetamine on a monthly basis has hovered in the range of 0.2-0.3% between 1999 and 2004.

• Rates of methamphetamine use by high school students have declined since 1999
>The proportion of high school students who had ever used methamphetamine (lifetime prevalence rates) declined by 45% between 1999 and 2005, from 8.2% to 4.5%.

• Methamphetamine use remains a rare occurrence in most of the United States, but exhibits higher rates of use in selected areas
>Only 5% of adult male arrestees tested positive for methamphetamine, compared with 30% for cocaine and 44% for marijuana.
>In some west coast cities – Los Angeles, Portland (OR), San Diego, and San Jose – positive responses for methamphetamine use among arrestees registered between 25-37%.
>In those cities, the overall rate of drug use did not rise between 1998 and 2003, suggesting that the increased use of methamphetamine replaced other drugs, particularly cocaine.

• Drug treatment has been demonstrated to be effective in combating methamphetamine addiction
>Studies in 15 states have demonstrated significant effects of treatment in the areas of abstention, reduced arrests, employment, and other measures.
> Methamphetamine abuse has generally been shown to be as receptive to treatment as other addictive drugs.

• Misleading media reports of a methamphetamine “epidemic” have hindered the development of a rational policy response to the problem
> Media accounts are often anecdotal, unsupported by facts, and at odds with existing data.
>Exaggerated accounts of the prevalence, addictiveness, and consequences of methamphetamine abuse risk not only misinforming the public, but may result in a “boomerang effect” in which use and perception are negatively affected.

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