Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

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Title: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding


The author seeks to shed light on the meth epidemic and the effect that it has on small-town American life, following the fortunes of the small town of Oelwein which is gripped in the clutches of methamphetamines.  Through interviews, research, shadowing, and by reaching out to others for their wisdom, Nick weaves a complex and disturbing tale of how meth became an epidemic in the United States, how it is affecting small towns, and why it just won’t go away.

My thoughts:

If you ever wanted to learn about methamphetamine and the way it impacts peoples’ lives, this is the book for you.  I thought this would be a mostly anecdotal book, but it turns out that the author shares a lot of background information about meth, as well.  Of course it makes sense to educate readers about how meth affects the brain, the effects it has on the rest of your body, and how it changes your brain functions even after you have stopped using, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting to get so much background information.  I really appreciated getting to know more about the drug and what it does physiologically to a person.  That knowledge makes it all the more scary, but it’s better to be well-informed than ignorant.

It’s rather disturbing to learn that the spread of meth could have been prevented were it not for powerful lobbyists and the interference of a pharmaceutical industry who was looking out for the bottom line.  It’s hard to understand how they could feel justified in blocking legislation that would prevent illegal drugs from being made so easily, but then again, when has big business ever shown itself to have a conscience?

The unfortunate result of the government not taking stronger steps to crack down on the drug problem is that thousands of small town police officers, social workers, mayors, and doctors have to continually put out fires (sometimes quite literally).  They are on the front-lines and have to deal with the day-to-day consequences of a lax system which allows meth to proliferate.  In my neck of the woods (the Midwest), meth is a huge problem.  Kids are entering into the foster care system all the time because their parents are addicted and/or cooking up meth at home and the children are being exposed to the toxins (not to mention the neglect and sometimes abuse that accompany it).  Our social worker told us that they really can’t keep up with the increased need for foster families.

One thing that I find highly satisfying about Methland is that the author looks at the problem from so many angles and really tries to get to the root of the problem.  He doesn’t take the easy way out and blame it on a couple of factors, but shows readers how it is really a complex weaving-together of many factors: drug distribution routes, illegal immigration, Mexican DTOs, lax laws, pharmaceutical lobbying, loss of living-wage employment, the profits to be made from meth, and the mental impact the drug has on its users.  There is no easy answer to the meth epidemic and it would require many different agencies working in tandem and putting forth their strongest efforts to make a dent in the problem.

The author did an admirable job of tying together all of the different threads of the story, though the anecdotal stories were not always strictly related.  For that reason it sometimes felt like I was picking up with a soap opera, revisiting a scene which had been left off during the previous week’s episode.  I suppose that couldn’t really be avoided, though.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters in the book.  They were real people, just like the rest of us, trying to make a difference in a world gone mad.

I recommend Methland to adults who would like to learn more about the meth epidemic.  It’s a fascinating and enlightening exploration of a terrible problem that we are facing in the United States right now.

A favorite quote:

“In 2005, when I called Dr. Clay Hallberg, the Oelwein general practitioner, and asked him to characterize the meth epidemic in his hometown, Clay had told me that meth was ‘a sociocultural cancer.’  What he meant, he said, was that, as with the disease, meth’s particular danger lay in its ability to metastisize throughout the body, in this case the body politic, and to weaken the social fabric of a place, be it a region, a town, a neighborhood, or a home.  Just as brain cancer often spreads to the lungs, said Clay, meth often spreads between classes, families, and friends.  Meth’s associated rigors affect the school, the police, the mayor, the hospital, and the town businesses.  As a result, said Clay, there is a kind of collective low self-esteem that sets in once a town’s culture must react solely to a singular–and singularly negative–stimulus.”  (p. 73)

Possible Objections:

  • some disturbing descriptions of violence, injuries, bodily functions & sexual stuff
  • some adult language

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…



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