Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The land of Ammonia, Lighter Fluid, Cold Medicine, and whatever else you want to toss in

My previous exposure to meth has included public service ads and televised documentaries which left me burying my face in a pillow to avoid looking at the ruined bodies displayed in front of me: missing teeth, severe burns, sagging and hyper-aged skin.  In Nick Reding's Methland, his sharp journalistic instincts and nuanced coverage of the societal and economic issues surrounding meth abuse make for a shocking and richly informative book without the disadvantage of gross pictures.  If you've got an active imagination, don't worry; Reding doesn't indulge in constant sickoid descriptions of the havoc this drug has wreaked on the lives and bodies of those he meets in the course of his research.  He finds a balance, weaving biographies not only of addicts, but also law enforcement and politicians in the town of Olewein, Iowa, the town he's chosen as his paradigm to explore the issues surrounding this drug epidemic. 

He's clearly a talented writer, but runs into some difficulties executing a book-length work.  I would compare it to a movie with too many montages or monologues.  There are times when Reding indulges in talking about his own family history, spending about twenty pages tracing his father's inspringly rags-to-riches, but wholly irrelevant, Midwestern story.  At times he gets too preachy and reflective about the causes and possible solutions to the central problem of the book, but it's easy to forgive him when you finish reading (or, in my case, skimming some of the editorial portions) and walk away with an increased awareness of the all but hopeless social problems and intractable, hidden distribution networks that give this drug so much power.

In the end, Methland outlines for us how so many unfortunate circumstances came together to cause the explosion of the most addictive and dangerous drug we're battling today:  the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, the shifting Midwestern economy (along with outsourcing that affects wider swaths of the nation), the weakness of federal regulation and intervention, and, in the end, the powerful and well-organized Mexican cartels who will stop at nothing to keep their customers hooked and their territory staked.  This book is serious, and it addresses a serious problem worth learning about.  I'd encourage you, therefore, to read this when you're in a reasonably even mood.


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