I just finished Nick Reding’s Methland. As my friend the Hipstamatic Man pointed out, every book I read these days is a trauma. He’s not far wrong. Look what I’ve done to myself in the recent past: The Art of Political Murder, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
And now Methland.
Let me be clear from the start: I know full well how naive I am. But I continue to be shocked and amazed when my naiveté is thrown up — and blown up — in my face.
I went into this book thinking it would be a quick, informative read, thinking I would be interested to learn what it had to teach me, but that I would be studying from the comfortable remove of my meth-free city life. This book was about the country, right? About trouble brewing in the heartland. Right? I actually had the idea that I was lucky to live in a place where there really wasn’t any kind of meth problem. And yes, you can wonder just how high I must be to really have thought that was true.¹
Well, Reding has made sure that I can no longer stroll around in my rose-colored bubble. I now know all I never wanted to know about meth and wouldn’t have thought to ask. I’m not saying I’m sorry I know this information. I’m not. I’m just sad and angry and feeling impotent.
Reding’s book is quite good. I like that he clearly strives to keep us focused on the human face of this drug and at the same time on the root causes of its popularity and the corporate greed that made it’s rise to prominence possible. The book upsets me for so many reasons. My anger at the callous disregard for the effect of a powerfully addictive drug on huge swaths of the population is certainly one flash point. The fine just leveled against CVS is hugely satisfying in light of everything I read in Methland, but it’s hardly enough. My first reaction when I heard the news story was, “That won’t stop them. Shut them down!” Extreme, yes, but by now you must know, gentle reader, just how extreme I can be.
But is it extreme? I remember walking up to the cashier at my local Rite Aid several years ago and seeing that the rows and rows of cigarette shelves behind the counter were empty. When I asked what that was about, I was told they’d been caught selling cigarettes to a minor. Their ability to sell cigarettes had been suspended for several months.
Selling cigarettes to minors is a serious offense (I’ll write later, maybe, about my own experience of buying cigarettes as a nine-year-old), but it’s hardly as serious as selling pseudoephedrine to meth makers. Not even close. And $75 million might sound like a lot of money, but it isn’t really. Not compared to CVS’ annual profit, which is roughly $100 billion. $75 million doesn’t go far when it’s being split across the 25 states that were involved in this case, or when it’s compared to the cost of dealing with the social, criminal and health ramifications of meth.
That fine is going to make a big noise in the news, but will it really impact illegal sale of pseudoephedrine? After reading Methland, I’d be lying if I said I thought so … but I guess that remains to be seen. If the sale of a pack of cigarettes to a teenager can shut down cigarette sales at one franchise for a few months, surely wholesale cooperation with drug dealers should mean CVS can’t sell products containing pseudoephedrine for — oh, I don’t know — the next ten years? That doesn’t sound extreme to me at all.
Yes, I’ve found another soapbox to stand on. But before you judge, read Reding’s book. If you can read about Roland Jarvis and Lori Arnold or Clay Hallberg and Nathan Lein without the least inclination to climb up here with me, then you can scold.
I’m glad I read this book and would recommend it (at least to anyone who’s a less easily traumatized reader than I am). Reding has a few “ticks” as a writer that irk me, but I’m almost always able to overlook them because the work is so compelling. The subject feels disturbingly immediate, close to home in exactly the way I thought it wouldn’t.
And, if I’m honest with myself, I’m glad about that, too. There’s something to be said for being able to glide across my world in a rose-colored haze, but there’s a lot more to be said for having my eyes full-open to what’s around me.
¹ Maybe you question if I am as naive as I’d have you believe. Trust me:
Fox came to visit weekends ago. She and I were walking around in the West 20s and 30s in Manhattan. From the moment we got off the subway, men were offering to sell us bags. I thought it was kind of funny that there was such an avid handbag trade going on a late Saturday afternoon/early evening. Fox got annoyed, sure the quickly whispered offers were somehow unseemly … but I assured her all was well. “They’re just offering us brown bags,” I said. “I guess they see that you don’t have a purse, so they think you need one.”
Yes. I said that.
It wasn’t until after the fourth or fifth guy passed us offering the coveted “brown bag” that I started to wonder about those bags, wonder what the big deal was, wonder what might be inside those fabled bags.
Google says I can get crack-smoking paraphernalia in a “brown bag.” Really?