VIEW FROM AFAR- Meth connects Chicago and Kansas

If you want to lower the odds of your teenagers using drugs and alcohol, you might consider moving them from rural Kansas to Chicago. This surprising data comes from a 2001 national survey of underage drinking and drug use.

I was ready to argue with my guru, William L. White of the Chestnut Institute, when he put this data up in his Powerpoint presentation at a recent conference for drug and alcohol counselors.

But his data make sense. Small town and rural teens have more access to cars, more open spaces for drinking and drugging-and, often, more disposable cash than their urban counterparts.

(A smart aleck Chicago teenager who often visits Kansas and heard about this data added, “Well, if I lived in the middle of nowhere-I’d be smoking weed and drinking, too.”)

For the past 15 years I have been a drug and alcohol counselor in Chicago. I joke that I spend my days talking to the very folks who make my country cousins afraid to visit the city.

Most days, I feel like I have been given a dustpan and a broom and asked to clean up after a tornado. Addiction devastates not just individuals but also their families and entire neighborhoods.

For example, I remember “Scott”-20-year-old kid. He and about 12 friends controlled drug sales on the corner of his poor neighborhood. We started keeping score during counseling sessions. In eight months, two friends were killed and three were facing life sentences for homicides. None were over 25. It became a grim joke, “OK, who dropped out this week?”

What scared him most was that he knew his 5-year-old son was about three years away from being enticed into “running errands” for drug dealers on the streets. (No, I don’t know how his story turned out-he quit treatment.)

The buzz at our drug counselors conference was that crystal meth has arrived in Chicago. “Crank” has shown up in the homosexual and Appalachian neighborhoods of Chicago and the city has already experienced several violent and bizarre crimes as a result.

So now gay men get to stay up all night-buzzed out of their minds-waiting for their teeth to turn into black stumps and get skin lesions.

(Crack-or cocaine-has been the drug of choice for Chicago adults for the past 15 years. But the gangs that control cocaine have kept crystal meth out of Chicago to maintain their illegal income. Chicago gang-bangers saw no use in letting bikers and rednecks bring in their boiled-down version of fertilizer and cold medication to get a piece of the financial action.)

Crystal meth is, of course, old news in Kansas. In Kansas, kids paying attention in chemistry class are probably gearing up for a life of drug manufacturing.

Drug use in America has always moved in long cycles like an illicit stock market. Ecstasy is down 10 points, IV heroin down 50 points but crack is holding steady and now crystal meth is the up-and-coming drug.

Partly to blame is an ever-changing cultural system that regards certain drugs as chic or “cool.” Maybe folks in Chicago and Kansas need to join forces in an anti-drug media campaign to change the image of crystal meth.

We could tell all the gay crystal meth users in Chicago, “You keep on using meth and you will eventually became a redneck, toothless piece of trailer trash and never again be pretty.”

Then we could do an ad campaign in Kansas: “If you keep on doing crystal meth- the first choice of urban homosexuals- you will eventually up being gay and favoring civil unions for same-sex people.”

It probably won’t do much good.

William White made a second prediction about the future of rural drug use: “In the long cycles of use, the next wave of drugs to hit rural America will be heroin.”

If he is right, remember you read it here first.

You can contact the writer at

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