People often ask if I interviewed only opioid users. Initially, my art series was named Project H/OPE, which stood for Heroin/Opioid Project Engagement. Not only was that name too long, it was too narrow. Just a few weeks into my travels, a middle-aged guy wanted to participate, “My drug of choice is meth,” he declared. Am I not a good enough addict for you?” He stopped me in my tracks.
And those tracks would have come to a standstill in the Midwest, for there I found precious few opioid users. Meth was king there, because of its low cost and availability. His drug of choice was good enough for my project…and for a growing portion of America: NPR reported May 1, 2019, that methamphetamine use is now surging in the West as well as in the Midwest.
This spells trouble for the recovery community, which has been debating endlessly the value and wisdom of medication-assisted treatment. Unlike opioid treatment, that can include methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone, there is, at this time, no medication that can be used in treating meth addiction. Meth addicts must rely on more traditional methods like NA or AA. Shocking to me was the statistic that AA and NA are only 10-15% successful. So the math is easy on meth–the prospects for recovery are significantly tougher.
As I realized the topography of the drug addiction map, Project H/OPE quickly became The Empty Fix Project. Policymakers in Washington, DC need to make a similar adjustment, broadening their understanding of this complex epidemic. Mexican meth is flooding our cities, typically entering through official ports of entry. It enters in liquid form and then is turned into “ice” in small conversion labs peppered throughout the country.
And speaking of that border wall, interviewees taught me that the most effective way to stop this epidemic is not by concentrating on supply–people are getting high on “meth” made from Raid Ant and Roach spray and by huffing keyboard cleaning sprays. When people want to escape reality, they will find a way. To stop addiction, address the demand side. Focus on why people use. (Check out my Protect Them installation…)