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October 1, 2013 at 8:15 AM
The decline of meth in Washington: bye bye Walter White
In “Breaking Bad” a Washington state drama, Walter White’s blue meth would’ve been the bomb 10 years ago.
That’s when, by some measures, meth peaked as the drug of choice. It was an “epidemic” in news reports (including mine).
But meth’s decline has skipped notice. Like Walter White (no spoilers), meth skipped town, but is still dangerous.
The Department of Ecology spill response section’s 20 years of data on methamphetamine contamination sites is the best single measure of the rise and fall of local meth production (above). When state troopers or rural cops bust a lab, the guys in yellow from the DOE show up (click here for county-level data). The past several years aren’t on the chart, but spill response manager David Byers reports that the trend continued: 95 in 2010; 46 in 2011; 84 in 2012; and 37 through August 2013.
Another measure — state hospital admissions with amphetamine diagnosis — tracks a similar pattern (right).
This trend reflects huge emphasis and resources — and a smarter strategy than just busting down meth-lab doors. Local police tracked meth-lab cooks as if they were mafia kingpins. And Washington in 2010 joined at least 18 other states in a national effort to track, via pharmacy sales, the precursor ingredients used to manufacture meth.
All this is not to say meth has vanished, like Saul Goodman’s vacuum-cleaner guy’s deluxe package. This report from University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute shows that meth is the fourth-leading drug cited as primary for King County treatment admissions in 2012 (alcohol 3,438; heroin 2,064; marijuana 1,834 and meth, 955). But the curve has been bent.
You know what hasn’t changed? Government’s willingness to spend money fighting a shrinking meth trade. Sen. Patty Murray “saved” the state meth initiative in 2010 with a $2.2 million federal appropriation.
DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Hank Schrader would be proud.