Methamphetamine, a drug that has caused substantial problems in many countries, notably the US, Canada and much of SE Asia, has yet to have the same impact in the UK. Indeed Alan Travis reports in the Guardian, that according to the police, the epidemic has yet to arrive on these shores to any significant degree.
His column thankfully doesn’t contain the more familiar emotive assertions and scare stories that we have witnessed from many other journalists over the past few months as the meth panic has been gathering pace. As with so many previous drug panics, the hype surrounding methamphetamine isn’t helpful at coming up with sensible policy responses. It tends to distort reality and push policy makers towards populist tough measures regardless of the consequences or evidence of effectiveness. See here for a Transform ‘how to…’ of creating a drug panic.
The meth panic has all the characteristics of previous drug panics, from crack in the late 90s, PCP and cocaine in the 80s, and going back further, cannabis in the 40s and 50s and alcohol during the height of the temperance movement. Much of the same language is used, typically deploying stories of crazed addicts, imbued with superhuman strength (grannies throwing police out of windows etc) immune to bullets, on sexual or violent rampages and so on – Even though such tales in no way describe the vast majority of using behaviours, it makes a good story, as lazy journalists and politicians have discovered.
This particular panic has resulted in political activity ranging from a high profile but almost certainly pointless reclassification, to the consideration of banning Lemsip. Whilst debate and action on the meth issue is welcome (the fact it hasn' t happened yet doesn't mean it wont at some stage, a lesson we learnt with crack), the epidemics in the US and Canada unfolded despite a schedule 1 classification and all manner of tough talk, rather demonstrating the irrelevance of such enforcement-led responses. Such political posturing ends up providing a smokescreen for more important problems – such as why we have drug epidemics in the first place, how to deal with the root causes of such problems and how to prevent them, and what are the appropriate public health responses for problem users.
ACPO suggest that methamphetamine is not yet a problem in the UK because of the increasingly cheap and available supply of cocaine. The low number of crystal meth users in the UK is more likely because demand for stimulants more generally is met by the existing and well established amphetamine market. Needless to say decades of enforcement have demonstably failed to have any meaningful impact on the price and availability of either cocaine or amphetamines. There is therefore to believe an enforcement response to meth, if and when it does arrive, would be any more successful.