On Sunday, March 19, the Washington Post ran a hysterical story on a growing meth epidemic in the Washington region on the front page of their Metro section. Slate‘s Jack Shafer dismantled the story in a piece called “How Not To Report About Meth.” We put it back together using accurate data and on-the-record interviews to show that there is no major meth problem in the region.
Though the assertion that meth has “infiltrated” the Washington region has now been thoroughly discredited, we find this in a story in today’s Metro section about an alleged lab seized in Wheaton:
Law enforcement officials say methamphetamine has infiltrated many suburbs in Virginia and a few in Maryland.
Cpl. Sonia Pruitt, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County police, says there’s no certainty as to what the chemicals actually are. Five gallons of a substance had been left by departed renters in an apartment they had vacated, which raises the question of why they would abandon such a valuable concoction—and leave themselves open to easy prosecution. Pruitt agreed that, for all police know at this point, it could be paint thinner. The chemicals are being tested to determine if they were precursors for meth, GHB, or nothing.
The only evidence offered to support the assertion that meth has infiltrated the region—besides the chemicals found in Wheaton—is that three labs were seized in Anne Arundel County in six months in 2005. Here’s what Sgt. Shawn Urbas, spokesperson for the Anne Arundel police, had to say when asked about the meth problem in his county as it related to those three seizures: “It’s funny—the Washington Post guy asked me that, but we haven’t per se seen any increase in meth possessions here.” But thanks to media reports, his officers are on guard for the epidemic. “I’ve seen the shows on Dateline and Oprah, and it’s a nasty drug,” he said.
ADDENDUM, 5:20 p.m.: It wasn’t meth. According to a statement released this afternoon by the Montgomery County police, “[d]etectives have determined the chemicals contained in the five, five-gallon drums were residual waste from the production of GHB (gamma hydroxbutyric acid) the date rape drug, and not Methamphetamine as was originally thought and reported.”