I thought I was informed about the current drug scene until I read Sam Quinones book The Least of Us. His first book focused on the Sackler family and their horrendous marketing effort of Oxycontin and the addiction surge that followed across the United States. While this book continues relating the gymnastics the Sackler continued to perform even after their legal convictions, its main focus is on fentanyl and meth.
I was fairly informed about fentanyl since it has been turning up here for several years. Last week a 13 year old boy died from an exposure at his junior high school where 100 bags of the stuff were found. It is regularly involved in our overdose deaths because of it potency. When mistaken for heroin it is deadly, and many users don’t know what they are buying.
But the biggest surprise was his depiction of meth. I thought of it as “speed,” a drug which amped up energy and kept users awake for stretches of time. It turns out that was the “old meth” made from decongestants like Sudafed(which are no longer easily available.) The new is factory made from chemicals. But its effects are drastically different. As Quinones talks to doctors, outreach workers, police and addiction centers he shares with us the results of the “new meth.”
Rather than giving bursts of energy, the drug more often produces paranoia,hallucinations and behavior frequently mistaken for schizophrenia. He says that many of the tent occupying street people are meth addicts: paranoid, hoarding, ranting and acting irrationally, often violently without provocation. Not all of the homeless are on meth, but many are and old ways of helping them are no longer working.
There seems to be a tendency in cities filled with tent street “villages” to either have compassion for those who can’t afford a home or to see all as drug addicts and seek to remove them. And of course it isn’t one way or the other. Some people who can’t afford a home have spent all their money on drugs. Some have been kicked out of their own home for drug use. And then there are many who simply can’t afford a home because of low wages and high rent.
There is no one solution for the myriad of US citizens now living in tents on public sidewalks. But without a clear understanding of the “new meth,” many public officials will continue to operate with old answers. I hope many of them will take the time to read the book. And I recommend it for anyone who wants to understand what is going on around many of us right now.