Location, Location: “Dry” Counties Have Higher Meth Abuse Rates

In search of alcohol, how do so many people end up abusing meth?

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would suggest that alcohol is a gateway drug to meth, but it looks like bans on alcohol sales have unintentionally had that effect.

Research out of the University of Kentucky in Louisville has produced some serious and shocking findings – including data that illustrates counties with an alcohol ban in place (“dry” counties) tend to experience significantly higher rates of meth use than their “wet” counterparts.

The Link Between Alcohol Sales and Meth Abuse

In areas where no alcohol can be sold, the rates of meth use are twice as high, with 80 incidents per 100,000 residents. Compare that number to wet counties, who have about 40 incidents per 100,000, and you can clearly see there’s a problem. By the University of Kentucky’s figures, meth lab seizures in the state would drop by a whopping 25 percent if all counties made alcohol sales fully legal.

Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky are states with the highest number of dry counties, but they’re also among the top U.S. states with the highest rates of meth use.

Need more proof? Take a look at these statistics:

  • Nearly half of the 75 counties in Arkansas are dry, but meth is the state’s most commonly abused illicit drug.
  • Oklahoma counties are about one-third dry and the state also has meth as its most commonly used illegal drug.
  • Kentucky has nearly 40 of his 120 counties listed as dry and the state is ranked third in the U.S. for meth production.

Linking Booze and Meth

So, how does a lack of alcohol sales lead to increased meth use? Although the researchers couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason, they suggested that dry counties had ultimately resorted to banning alcohol after experiencing troubles with a variety of illegal substances. Unfortunately, banning addictive substances creates a huge black market demand, prompting people in these communities to seek them out and, in the process, gain access to even more dangerous substances…like meth.

“Our results add support to the idea that prohibiting the sale of alcohol flattens the punishment gradient, lowering the relative cost of participating in the market for illegal drugs,” wrote the researchers.

It’s also worth pointing out that most dry counties don’t have a handle on local alcohol abuse. Data from Kentucky State Police also showed that wet counties had lower rates of DUI-related car crashes than dry ones. Separate data published in 2005 in the Journal of Law and Economics also found that counties throughout Texas saw a 14 percent drop in drug-related mortalities once they began legally selling spirits.

What’s the Solution?

If we go by the University of Kentucky’s findings, it would appear the solution to avoiding alcohol abuse certainly isn’t through banning these beverages, but rather through education that alerts consumers about the dangers of drinking.

As humans, one of our common flaws is “we want what we can’t have.” In this case, when members of a community can’t legally purchase alcohol, they set out to buy it on the black market and often find themselves in much deeper trouble with illicit drugs like methamphetamine. If we’re to learn a lesson from this, it might be that letting people make informed decisions for themselves greatly reduces the risk that they’ll rebel by experimenting with even harder substances.

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