Saturday, March 30, 2013

What caused the meth epidemic? The answer was hidden in a graph.

Source: Derrick Quenzer, Steve Suo/The Oregonian. Y-axis indicates magnitude of increase, 1 = starting value, 2  = doubling, 3 = tripling.

Reporter Steve Suo of The Oregonian was investigating the dramatic worsening of the meth epidemic, asking, what caused the dramatic rise of methamphetamine abuse in the western United States?

The answer came from the graph above. Suo gathered extensive amounts of data from numerous sources and compiled what he found. He noted a rise and decline of various meth abuse indicators over time. One surprising aspect of the pattern is that it occurred in different states across the western US, and the patterns seemed synchronized. Further investigation revealed the rises were positively correlated with the purity of meth on the streets, and the decline of purity was negatively impacted with increased regulation of the raw materials of meth (see shaded boxes in graph).

Thus, the numbers clearly indicated that with proper regulatory intervention, the meth epidemic can be controlled. Too bad these regulations get in the way of fat profits for companies that sell cold medication, or else we would have wiped out the meth epidemic ages ago.

For a fantastic piece of investigative journalism, watch Frontline and The Oregonian's story on "the unnecessary epidemic". The facts, the numbers, and the stories will shock you. One thing that struck me is how much the graphs, the math and the numbers speak to policy formulation, and how much they are ignored in the face of large profits for a few.