06/23/14

Breaking Bad and Living Next to a Meth Lab

Very early one morning in September of 2000, I left my apartment and headed to work. I passed by my landlord who was talking to a policeman in the parking lot. While this was unusual, I wasn’t concerned since my landlord nodded to me and continued talking to the policeman. I assumed if there was something I needed to know he would have said something. Wrong.

When I returned home after work, I found my street blocked off by the police. I could see a television crew setting up at a good distance from my apartment building. The police officer waving away cars said that a meth lab had been discovered in the apartment building. I explained that I lived in that apartment building and was just returning from work. He said no one could approach the building and he didn’t know how long the restriction would continue. I told him that all my things were in the apartment; could someone go with me so that I could get some of my things for overnight. He said I couldn’t and suggested I stay at a local motel.

The incredible irony was I was working full time for a drug and alcohol treatment agency. An addictions counselor who lived in an apartment building that had a meth lab! As it turned out, there technically wasn’t a lab in the empty apartment. But someone had been using it for storing the chemicals used in cooking meth. You can read an original newspaper article about this here.

Breaking Bad was by all reports a powerfully written and acted drama. Even Anthony Hopkins wrote Brian Cranston a fan letter (Yes, that Anthony Hopkins).

But the show may have also helped to revive the meth industry. According to statistics available on the DEA website, the number of “meth incidents” steadily dropped from a total of 23,829 in 2004 to 6,858 in 2007. The year Breaking Bad premiered in 2008 on AMC, the number of “meth incidents” known to the DEA increased to 8,810; then to 12,851 in 2009; and peaked at 15,196 in 2010.  By 2012 the number of meth incidents had dropped to 11,210. You can find the DEA statistics here. There was a surge of almost 400 per cent in the number of meth labs dismantled between 2010 and 2012 in the United States. See the following graphic taken from the 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment. meth labs

The number of first time meth users increased from 97,000 in 2008 to 151,00 in 2009. The number of past month meth users in 2012 was 444,000, .2 percent of the U.S. population. This compares to the 18.9 million Americans (7.3% of the population) who reported using marijuana in month prior to the same 2012 survey. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S., while meth is the least commonly used illicit drug. You can find the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health here.

I don’t believe that Breaking Bad alone revived the meth industry. But the show certainly gave it a high public profile just as DEA statistics seemed to suggest it was dying out. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. I think it will be interesting to see if the national meth incidents continue to drop off now that the show is off the air.

Do you think there could be a relationship between Breaking Bad and the reported increases with meth use and meth labs?