EDITOR'S NOTE: I tried to post this Friday morning from the Hilton in Salt Lake City, but due to some mysterious problem with the internets, it didn't get through. The 2nd National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis is now in its second day. The Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City is doing an admirable job of dealing with the influx of treatment providers, social service workers, needle exchangers, speed freaks, drug company representatives, academics, researchers, and politicos who have flooded into the hotel for three days of plenaries, panels, workshops, and breakout sessions on various aspects of the methamphetamine phenomenon. For me, a lot of the sessions and presentations are of limited interest, which is not to say they have no value, only that they are directed at people who are doing the hands-on work in the field. As someone interested in drug policy reform and, frankly, legalizing meth and everything else, the differences in behavior or susceptibility to treatment between gay urban speed freaks and rural hetero speed freaks is not really that important to me. Ditto for comparisons of different treatment modalities. Again, I'm not saying this stuff is unimportant, only that it's not what I'm about. I'm much more interested in the politics of meth, the methods of blunting repressive, reactionary responses from the state, and the ways of means of crafting more enlightened policies. For all the progress we have made in the drug reform arena in the past decade or so, it seems like all someone has to do is shout "Meth!" and we are once again in the realm of harsh sentencing, repressive new legislation, and drug war mania reminiscent of the crack days of the 1980s. That's why it's so heartening to see political figures like Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson stand front and center for enlightened responses to meth use and abuse. Of course, it isn't just Rocky. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, state and local officials from the governor on down are attempting a progressive response, whether it's the governor lobbying for more money for treatment or local prosecutors practicing restorative justice. And it's not just Utah. Cut across the Four Corners into New Mexico, and you find another state where officials are rejecting harsh, repressive measures and instead seeking to educate youth and adults alike with evidence-based curricula. As one measure of the changing status quo, the Drug Policy Alliance is getting involved in the Land of Enchantment. It has been selected by the state government to administer a $500,000 grant to develop prevention and education curricula. I find it just a little bit ironic that I'm sitting in Salt Lake at this major meth conference just as SAMSHA puts out an analysis of national survey data showing that meth use is declining after about a decade a stable usage patterns. There was a significant drop in the number of new meth users between 2004 and 2005 and a steady decline in past year meth users since 2002. Despite all the hoopla, meth users now account for only 8% of all drug treatment admissions. Meth crisis? While there is no denying the social and personal problems that can and do result from excessive resort to the stimulant, it seems like there is less to it than meets the eye. Still, it has the politicians and funding agencies riled up enough to cough up money for programs and conferences and the like. I guess we'll take what we can get.
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