A new KUED documentary explores the devastation in the wake of this deadly drug.
by Kathy Weiler
The story of the methamphetamine crisis in rural America-specifically the American West-focuses on the devastation of families, individuals, children, ancient tribal rituals and the environment. It is a story that epitomizes the changing landscape, a story happening in our own back yard.
KUED's "Aftermath of Meth," airing May 30 at 8 p.m., is a hard-hitting probe of the drug that is devastating many small, rural communities. The unique attributes of the American West make it fertile ground for meth manufacturers. "Small-town America" has now become a high-stakes venue for methamphetamine trafficking.
In examining the meth epidemic, a variety of issues come to the fore, including inadequate efforts of thinly stretched, small-town law enforcement, overburdened health care facilities and vulnerable Native American populations. The epidemic is causing a burgeoning health care crisis affecting women and their families.
The documentary tells four stories: In 2001, a Mexican drug ring based in Ogden, Utah developed a comprehensive business plan that directed over 100 pounds of meth – enough for 45,000 doses, with a street value of $6.5 million – onto the Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Three drug ring members rented houses near the reservation, formed romantic relationships with Indian girls to gain credibility on the reservation, and provided free samples of meth hoping to lure individuals already struggling with alcohol abuse over to meth addiction. Within five years, the reservation became a 2.2-million acre mecca for meth abuse. Assaults tripled, thefts doubled and child abuse increased 85%.
The energy boom with its abundant oil and gas drilling operations also plays into the meth problem in the Rockies. The boom attracted a young, roughneck workforce making huge paychecks and brought with it a substantial increase in assault, domestic violence, theft and meth addiction that overwhelms rural law enforcement agencies. An estimated one-third of all rig crews in the Uintah Basin have meth-related problems that require a new subset of health and safety concerns.
Steve Tamlin is an inmate doing time for meth possession in Craig, Colorado. The details of his story could be told by any number of workers in the oil and gas field trying to get through 12-hour days of drilling with the help of meth. While some rig operators do periodic drug testing, others find looking the other way keeps the production "boom" moving smoothly and on schedule.
The environmental impact from methamphetamine abuse also takes an immense toll on the landscape. For each pound of meth produced, five to 10 pounds of toxic waste ends up in the county landfills, farmlands, national forests and local water systems.
The ripple effect of methamphetamine abuse includes many neglected and endangered children who live in toxic environments where they sleep on and eat from surfaces contaminated by meth's residue. The children living under the care of adults who use or manufacture meth often suffer permanent health damage such as respiratory distress from breathing the toxic fumes. Parents who stay up for weeks at a time often leave children on their own to fend for themselves, or worse, physically abuse them. Meth's impact on families has put the Division of Family and Child Protection Services on a "red alert."
Meth knows no boundaries and it does not discriminate. It has a negative effect on on everyone and everything it touches.
Kathy Weiler is the producer of Aftermath of Meth. An independent filmmaker, she previously produced "Substance of Denial" for KUED.