The story of the methamphetamine crisis in rural America - specifically the American West - is a story focused on the devastation of families, individuals, children, ancient tribal rituals and the environment. It is a story that epitomizes the changing landscape of the rural West, a story happening in our own backyard. KUED’s “Aftermath of Meth,” airing Wednesday, May 30, at 8 p.m.,
is a hard-hitting probe of the drug that is devastating many small, rural communities in the West. According to producer Kathy Weiler, the unique attributes that characterize the American West have also made it fertile ground for meth manufacturers. “’Small Town America’ has now become a high-stakes venue for methamphetamine trafficking,” says Weiler, who previously produced “Substance of Denial” for KUED. In her examination of the meth epidemic in the rural Intermountain West, a variety of issues come to the fore, including inadequate efforts of thinly-stretched, small-town law enforcement, overburdened health care facilities and vulnerable Native American populations. The epidemic also is causing a burgeoning health-care crisis affecting women, children and their families. The documentary focuses specifically on four stories -- how a Mexican drug cartel cleverly introduced meth to Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation; how the meth epidemic is fueled by the oil and gas boom in the Uintah Basin; the environmental contamination from cooking methamphetamine in clandestine labs and open spaces; and children endangered by living in toxic environments where adults are using and/or manufacturing meth. In 2001, a Mexican drug ring, based in Ogden, Utah, developed a comprehensive business plan that directed over 100 pounds of meth – enough for 45,000 doses, with a street value of $6.5 million -- onto the Wind River Reservation, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. With a well-thought-out plan, three drug ring members from the Utah-based cell rented houses near the reservation, formed romantic relationships with Indian girls, thereby gaining access to the reservation, and provided free samples of meth, hoping to lure individuals already struggling with alcohol abuse over to meth addiction. Within five years, the reservation became a 2.2 million-acre Mecca for meth abuse. Assaults tripled, thefts doubled and child abuse increased 85 percent.
Also playing into the growing meth problem in the heart of the Rockies is the energy boom with its abundant oil and gas-drilling operations. The boom attracted a young, roughneck workforce making huge paychecks and brought with it a substantial increase in assault, domestic violence, theft and meth addiction, which is overwhelming rural law-enforcement agencies. An estimated one third of all rig crews in the Uintah Basin have meth-related problems that require a new subset of health and safety concerns. While some rig operators perform periodic drug testing, others find looking the other way keeps the production “boom” moving smoothly and on schedule. The environmental impact from methamphetamine abuse is also taking an immense toll on the remote landscape of the American West, which is rapidly becoming the kitchen of choice for many meth cooks. For each pound of meth produced, five to 10 pounds of toxic waste ends up in the county landfills, farmlands, national forests and local water systems.
The ripple effect of methamphetamine abuse includes many neglected and endangered children who are living in toxic, drug-infested environments, where they sleep and eat off surfaces contaminated by meth’s residue. The children living under the care of adults who use and/or manufacture meth are often subject to permanent health damage, such as respiratory distress that comes from breathing meth’s toxic fumes. Parents who stay up for weeks at a time often leave children on their own to fend for themselves, or worse, physically abuse them. Meth’s impact on families has put the Utah Division of Family and Child Services on a “red alert.” The one-hour documentary culminates with the story of a family torn apart by methamphetamine. It is a heart-wrenching story of a 17-year-old girl who had to assume all parental duties at home, drop out of school, and raise her younger brother because her mother was addicted to meth and her father was serving a prison sentence for meth abuse. “You never know who will ultimately be affected by meth, which knows no boundaries and does not discriminate,” says Weiler. Additional Related Programs:
Following The Aftermath of Meth
, KUED explores the avenues for treatment and support in a special follow-up program, Hope after Meth,
produced by KUED’s Erik Nielsen.
The program is divided into four segments, includes panelists discussing recovery from addiction, law enforcement, public policy, and the recovery process. Participating will be Lt. Michael Ross, Salt Lake Police Department; Judge Stephen Henriod, 3rd District Court Drug Court; Patrick Fleming, Salt Lake County Division of Substance Abuse; Kelly Lundberg, Director, University of Utah Dept.of Psychiatry and two recovering addicts. Viewers can call in during the program to request a free resource and discussion guide that includes copies of both KUED productions. Airing as part of the follow-up program will be the half-hour Sundance film exploring the lives of mothers who are addicted to meth, Mother Superior
, produced by SpyHop Productions. Salt Lake City is third in the nation for meth use among women. Free Public Screening and Panel Discussion
A free screening and panel discussion of Aftermath of Meth
will be held Wednesday, May 16, at 7 p.m., at The City Library Auditorium, 240 E. 200 S., in Salt Lake City. Members of the panel will include producer Kathleen Weiler, Dr. Elizabeth Howell, associate clinical professor for the Department of Psychiatry at the University Medical Center, Lt. Mike Ross, Salt Lake City Police Department, Duane Betournay, director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, as well as two recovering meth addicts. Aftermath of Meth is made possible in part by Salt Lake County Government and the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Additional support is provided by The Utah Assoc. of Counties, Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Assoc., BMW of Murray, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, David and Susan MacFarlane, Founders Title Co., Utah Behavioral Healthcare Network, and Jerry and Edna Taylor. Wednesday, May 30:
- Aftermath of Meth at 8 p.m.
- Hope after Meth at 9 p.m.
- Mother Superior at 9:30 p.m.