Monday, February 1, 2010


If the brutal description of a man literally melting to death in a basement laboratory after a psychotic episode led him to pour chemicals down a drainpipe and then light a cigarette, as well as details of mental and physical ravages caused by addiction to this drug, does not rivet one’s attention to the dangers of this "epidemic" in America, I don’t know what can. Nick Reding has written a riveting account of the impact of meth on a small town in Iowa, particularly factors that contributed both to its manifestation and adaptation, in Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. Anyone interested in the fight against drugs and the battle for the American heartland should read this book.

There are villains aplenty. One could pillory the producers, dealers, and users---and certainly they bear a large responsibility for their plight---but Reding focuses on economic and cultural pressures that allowed the "epidemic" to nearly destroy small towns throughout the country. There are many groups whose culpability is shocking and unforgivable. Huge pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists, helped along by willing lawmakers, blocked any regulation of ephedrines (sold in cold medicines) because of the huge profits (as well as failed to impose effective immigration controls); corporations (in this case agricultural and food processing) wiped out good-paying jobs and reduced employment rolls, then brought in low-paid illegal laborers (mostly from Mexico), which helped gut local communities, destroy households, plow under family farms, and burden health services; small-time producers who hooked several generations, only to be swept aside by a rapacious and aggressive group of Mexican cartels; illogical and ineffective punishments and policies that failed to address underlying causes. A common theme is that an unwillingness and laxity in protecting the American people because of greed or failure of nerve will be taken advantage of by corrupt individuals smart enough to realize an opportunity for a quick buck. The route taken by drug dealers is especially worrisome, in addition to the damage done to individuals and society (both directly and residually), because other groups such as terrorist organizations, also capitalize on the flaws in our system. Against this juggernaut a few hardy souls were determined to save their communities, and fought to restructure their towns in response to changing times. I will never drive through the Midwest again without passages from the book ringing in my head. Although there are signs of hope, this book should make readers angry and (in good muckraking fashion) make people call for better policing, policy making, and protection of small businesses.


  1. Very interesting review. I would like to read this. i happen to live in the "Meth Triangle" of the Midlands of South Carolina. I live where I should see evidence of it but thank goodness I dont. I am going to pick up a copy of this to read. Good review.

  2. It does seem a riveting subject. I'd been interested in the book after someone suggested it to those who liked "Omnivore's Dilemma" and had meant to buy it during the holidays, but they didn't have any copies in the Barnes & Noble. I'll have to check it out now. I'd forgotten about it after the holiday rush.