Tuesday, January 27, 2009

American Meth: A film review

Emaciated, glassy eyed, walking dead. Rotted teeth. Paranoia. Abused children. Vats of toxic chemicals.

"American Meth" is a horror movie. Sadly, it is not fictional.

The film documents the spread of methamphetamine use in the U.S. It explores the impact on communities, families, and individuals. Statistics, graphic images, interviews, and a gut churning video of the daily life of two meth users and their four children illuminate the epidemic.

Apparently Justin Hunt (writer, producer, director) hoped to frighten his audience. Interviews with law enforcement and medical professionals provide startling statistics and grim anecdotes. The visual power of film is used to engender dismay and disgust. Photos from an Oregon anti-meth campaign, Faces of Meth , shock the viewer with the rapid degradation of many meth user's countenances. Posters and videos from the Montana Meth Project evoke horror by depicting the depravity that often proceeds from frequent meth usage.

Interviews with meth addicts currently in recovery are edited to emphasize the effects of addiction their lives, and humanize addicts in a way that statistics and anecdotes cannot.

Justin Hunt's film works as a wake up call regarding the extent and depth of the meth problem. However, young people who have not tried meth may be harmed by Hunt's tactics. The film lacks a satisfactory investigation into what motivates people people to use meth the first few times.

The film fails to explore the seductive powers common to many drugs . Meth is depicted as a unique drug with a power to ensnare that other drugs cannot match. However, similar power has often been attributed to cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and even alcohol.

In a British campaign to abate cocaine use Dr. Ken Checinski says, "Cocaine is psychologically more addictive than many other substances, such as alcohol and cannabis, and can easily become a habit that controls your life. "

This poster from the temperance movement in the 19th century showed the progression from a single drink with friends all the way to death by suicide. Eventually alcohol consumption was made illegal throughout the U.S.

Many drugs, including alcohol, are physically addictive when used in excess. Addiction has been a problem world wide for centuries, from opium dens in China to coca leaf chewing in Peru. Humans often seek comfort in drugs to escape pain, fear, or even boredom.

"American Meth" could be retitled American Myth. It imputes the sort of mystique to methamphetamine that could easily encourage a young person to try it. The drug is actually nothing extraordinary. Methamphetamine has been available since it was first synthesized by a Japanese chemist in 1919. Over the past century it has been used to energize troops, enable weight loss, treat depression and calm hyperactive children. Its popularity has waxed and waned.

I grew up in an era of rampant experimentation with drugs. I used alcohol, marijuana, hashish, opiates, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, barbiturates, and benzodiazapines (Valium and it's kin). And yes, I used methamphetamine for a season. Each time I tried something new, I felt that I had been misled by anti-drug campaigns. I did not experience immediate strong cravings for more. Friends used various drugs regularly, generally with no apparent ill effects. As a young person, my thinking was mostly very short term. I seldom pondered the possibility that drugs would prove to be dangerous in the long run. In the short run my experience seemed to refute the hype often used in those campaigns.

"American Meth" is worth watching as a means of learning about the drug's current popularity and the problems attendant to frequent illicit usage, however I recommend against showing it to young people in hopes of deterring them from experimenting with meth.

Photo Credit: One Woman... by d70foucs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23905174@N00/435934694/
Photo Credit: Drunkard's Progress Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier ca. 1846 Public Domain

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