Nightmarish story of methamphetamine in rural America.
First synthesized in 1898, methamphetamine was long marketed legally in the United States. Despite its “anti-social” side effects, the drug was used by soldiers, truckers and others who wanted to stay alert, until the early 1980s, when bike gangs began making a purer form—crank—illegally. In this richly textured account, Reding (The Last Cowboys at the End of the World: The Story of the Gouchos of Patagonia, 2001) traces the astonishing rise of meth use across the Midwest, focusing on Oelwein, an Iowa railroad town (pop. 6,772) that by 2005 had been “destroyed” by the drug. Wracked by poverty, unemployment and farm failures, the town’s major growth industry has been meth, which can be made cheaply in bathtubs from easily available ingredients—mainly cold medications from pharmacies and anhydrous ammonia obtained from farmers. Reding vividly re-creates the despair of a place overtaken by meth—its storefronts boarded, its frequently exploding meth labs belching toxins, its streets used to manufacture meth in bottles strapped to mountain bikes, its Do Drop Inn transformed into a meeting place for addicts. Among the many memorable characters are Roland Jarvis, a 20-year addict; Dr. Clay Hallberg, a general practitioner who treats the psychological and medical devastation wrought by meth (his own drug of choice is alcohol); Nathan Lein, a prosecutor hired to clean things up; and Mayor Larry Murphy, who revitalizes downtown streets but fears for Oelwein’s future. The author describes the forces that have made the Midwest ground zero for meth use, including the meat-packing industry, whose illegal workers distribute the more powerful “crystal meth” manufactured by Mexican groups. Reding also shows how pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists blocked anti-meth legislation until passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005—though even that act fails to prevent meth makers from obtaining cold medications at drugstores. CVS clerks are often in cahoots with the crooks, he writes.
An important report on an extremely dangerous drug and the consequences of addiction.