Meth, hysteria, and experts

The Sentencing Project has a new report (pdf) by Ryan King on methamphetamines that claims that media hype about the “epidemic” is, in many cases, overblown — something that we’ve already known for some time.
Here’s the start of the report:

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug that represents a substantial
challenge to policymakers, health care professionals, social service
providers, and the law enforcement community. Over time, methamphetamine abuse can result in the deterioration of physical and mental capacities, the dissolving of family ties, diminished employment prospects, and a lifetime spent cycling through the criminal justice system. The consequences of irresponsible drug abuse harm not only the individual, but his or her family and the larger community. Thus, it is important that our public resources be effectively
directed to both prevent the development of such a habit as well as treat those
individuals before the proverbial die has been cast.
Unfortunately, the American strategy of drug control since the early 20th Century has emphasized an approach of prevention based on instilling fear about a substance through dramatized descriptions and images of the consequences of use coupled with a notion of treating people with harsh punishments out-of-step with the harm caused by the drug. Historically, the domestic response to drug use has been to demonize the drug and the people who use it while exaggerating the impact of its use (“You’ll be hooked the first time you try it”). This strategy has been complemented in the past two decades with mandatory minimums, sentencing enhancements, and a ban on access to services such as public housing, income assistance, and federal educational aid as the result of a drug conviction.

Seems like a reasonable start, right? And a good description of the problem.
Then I go over to The Drug Update where I see:

Sentencing Project Claims Methamphetamine is Not a Problem
In a recent press release, the Sentencing Project claimed that Methamphetamine is not a problem. However, drug policy expert Mark Kleiman disagrees with this. Go here for his thorough analysis.

Not a problem? That’s not the way I read the opening. So I looked further in the Sentencing Project report and found headings like:

Misleading media reports of a methamphetamine “epidemic” have hindered
the development of a rational policy response to the problem […]
Methamphetamine in America: The Extent of the Problem […]

In what possible way is the report saying that meth is not a problem?
Then I realized that Daniel probably made the mistake of reading Mark Kleiman’s post without questioning (a student’s mistake), and of not understanding Mark’s blind spots.
Let’s go to Mark’s “thorough” analysis: Even real drug problems get hyped. It’s long, it’s got anecdotes, and it has opinion, but thorough it is not.
It’s another opportunity for Mark to rail at Jack Shafer, someone he appears to despise with an unreasonable passion. He spends an inordinate amount of time in his article complaining about Jack’s suggestion that the media might look for a balanced approach to reporting and not over-hype the problem (A Meth Test for the Press
How will it respond to a nonhysterical new study?
by Jack Shafer) He’s done this with Jack Shafer before. Mark regularly uses Straw Man arguments in drug policy, and this is no exception.
Mark also rips apart the Sentencing Project’s report by claiming that the government data they use doesn’t tell the whole story. The Sentencing Project and Jack Shafer, however, both note that the data is imperfect, but conclude that a rational approach to the problem requires something other than hysteria.
Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert, “counters” with:

How big a problem methamphetamine is right now, and how big it’s likely to get, are matters mostly of guesswork. We don’t have the right data to make convincing current estimates or adequate models to make strong predictions. […]
Offhand, I’m not sure what to do about meth. […]
So it’s possible that the meth wave is less a problem we ought to be trying to fix than a situation we need to ty to adjust to as best we can. But that’s no excuse for pretending it’s not happening. Media criticism is good clean fun, but it’s no substitute for studying the actual phenomena.

So study the actual phenomena, Mark. And when you actually have something to contribute to the discussion, join in.

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