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Posts Tagged ‘Kate Dubinski’

Why am I dedicating a series of blogs to an examination of The London Free Press crystal meth series, On Thin Ice, almost four years after its publication? The catalyst was an Op-Ed column—Drugs Won the War—in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof wrote: “This year marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s start of the war on drugs, and it now appears that drugs have won.” He goes on to argue: “…we need to be less ideological and more empirical in figuring out what works in combating America’s drug problem.”

I don’t believe waving the white flag is what’s being suggested. I believe Kristof is looking for a more reasoned approach to the drug problem, an approach that feels like it is comes from a mature, clear thinking, adult. (With the death of Walter Cronkite, the Huffington Post reposted some of Cronkites blogs written for the Internet newsgather. Read Cronkite’s informed views in a piece he called, “Telling the Truth About the War on Drugs.”)

Faces of Meth

Faces of Meth

When the media stumbled en masse onto the “crystal meth epidemic,” everyone knew what the story would say, “Speed kills!” To prove this unarguable truth many media outlets ran the pictures of meth abusers obtained from The Faces of Meth website run by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, of Portland, Oregon.

The London Free Press was no different, except that they did not make it clear that the before meth and the after meth pictures running in colour on a front page in October 2005 were not shot in London—nor even in Toronto.

I expect The Free Press was hoping to win awards in the annual journalism competitions with this series. Many called these Faces of Meth pictures propaganda, but not The Free Press. (Kate Dubinski delivered a rich, complex story looking at Krista, a real meth abuser living in London. That story shines in this otherwise cliche-steeped series. And it shines when compared to dozens of other meth stories written around this time.)

Theresa Baxter

Theresa Baxter 3.5 year later and not 2.5 years later.

Who were these people on the front page on The Free Press? -people with their lives clearly ruined by crystal meth.

One was Theresa Baxter, far left, in her booking picture after her arrest  for identity theft and fraud. The next picture is Baxter 3 1/2 years later in another booking photo, this time for theft and drug possession. Reportedly, a former heroin user, Baxter began using meth to escape depression. She said it was cheaper. . . In the last mention of Baxter that I could find on the Internet, we learn that Baxter has founded Methamphetamine Addicts for Christ.

Joseph Harris after only 3 months of meth abuse.

Joseph Harris after only 3 months of meth abuse.

Another of the faces run by The Free Press is of Joseph Harris, right, who apparently disintegrated after only three months of meth abuse.

Do these photos illustrate the results of meth abuse or the results of living an abusive lifestyle?

The third face was that of Jennifer Lundgren. Lundgren’s second booking picture was taken 17 months after her original photo.

faces6

Jennifer Lundgren after 17 months of meth use.

Still healthy after 26 years of Meth use.

Healthy after more than two decades of Meth use.

We have a problem. These pictures contrast sharply with Krista, a London meth user for 26 years.

The user in the National Geographic does not look wasted.

The user in the National Geographic does not look wasted.



The National Geographic also jumped on the bandwagon, running a story on meth abuse. The image of a user they ran does not show a severely wasted individual. After the flack the National Geographic took for moving the pyramids, I don’t think they would run a fake picture of a meth user. This picture can be trusted, as can The London Free Press image.

I believe the Faces of Meth pictures show us not what crystal meth does to users but what the present approach, especially in the States, does to drug abusers.

The Faces of Meth are The Faces of  the Victims of the War on Drugs.

Addendum:

UK: Police Urge State-funded Prescription of Heroin to Addicts

In England, senior police officer, Howard Roberts, urged the UK to follow Holland and Switzerland’s lead and begin the state-funded prescription of heroin to addicts, in an effort to treat them and reduce crime. The program would cost an estimated £12,000 a year per addict, but proponents believe treatment would be cost-effective as users steal at least £45,000 worth of property each year to feed their addictions. Widespread trials of such programs in Holland and Switzerland show users turning away from crime to feed their habits when they were prescribed drugs. Story from IndependentOnline.

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On Thin Ice was a six part series.

On Thin Ice was a six-part series.

My first blog made it clear why I did not read the full series On Thin Ice when it ran in The London Free Press back in October of 2005.

To write today’s blog I had to force myself to read the complete series and now I have to force myself to eat some crow.

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal

Fifth Estate Dark Crystal


Before continuing, it is important to understand the climate in which The London Free Press series was conceived and written. You see, in March of 2005 CBC’s the Fifth Estate aired Dark Crystal, detailing the supposed facts on crystal meth use across Canada. The crystal menace was reportedly as cheap as it was toxic and its popularity was spreading fast. In the city of Kamloops and the area around it, crystal meth was now the drug of choice for young people .

ZAmanda CanadayAmanda Canaday, a pretty young teen from the town of Barriere, 45 minutes north of Kamloops, was one of those featured in the television report. The CBC Fifth Estate site tells us, “At a community meeting about crystal meth, Amanda read a poem she’d written about her addiction.” This makes a great story and it was probably great television, very touching but also not true. Canaday did not write the poem. Versions of the poem have been available on the Internet for years. (It seems no one at the Fifth Estate thought to check the Internet.)

Newsweek Cover Story

Newsweek Cover Story

Five months later, in August of 2005, Newsweek ran the cover story Meth: America’s Most Dangerous Drug. Soon afterwards, Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert was waving a copy of the U.S. weekly news magazine containing the story and declaring, “I don’t ever want to see that kind of headline on the cover of Macleans.”

Slate ran an excellent article, Meth Madness at Newsweek, by Jack Shafer. He wrote: “But for all Newsweek‘s hysteria, it fails to deliver. For instance, if meth is America’s most dangerous drug, how many people has it killed? Newsweek doesn’t bother to explore the topic . . . you’d think the magazine would have provided some sort of body count.”

But Newsweek was read by more folk than Slate and the CBC had a strong, influential media presence in Canada. The infatuation with crystal meth in the media was spreading as fast as the “epidemic” itself. Crystal meth was a big story, it had to be covered and as all the facts were apparently already known, it was a story that just about wrote itself.

Which brings me to my plate of crow and my nod to the excellent reporting skills of Kate Dubinski. Possibly I should also be tipping my hat to the newsroom leadership at The Free Press, such as Paul Berton and Joe Ruscitti.

An important part of any series like this is bringing the topic home, giving it a strong local angle. Kate Dubinski did this in spades. Dubinski introduced us to Krista, a London speed freak to use the term from my youth. Krista, 42 at the time of the interview, was 16 when she first got high on crystal meth. She found speed graceful, shadowy, and for 26 years it had been a part of her life. Some people like a glass of wine; Krista leaned towards a spot of speed.

Krista is not the meth user of almost all other reports.  Krista, as Dubinski draws her, is a real woman, with a name, a home, children. Krista’s life is made up of successes and failures, as are most lives, but Krista has one constant through it all: crystal meth. Dubinski is hitting her stride as she writes, “Krista is the other face of methamphetamine use.” Krista was not one of the teens officials were worried about; Krista was the woman those teens could become.

Krista was a mother of three but it was not an easy, comfortable relationship that she enjoyed with her children. Her 26-year-old son had cut her out of his life, while her daughters, 12 and 16, had been removed by the Children’s Aid Society.

Krista hadn’t lost her teeth to crystal meth but she had lost her children to her addiction. And this seems so much worse. Of course, Krista didn’t see herself as an addict. She’s not a junkie. She’s a speedo, a drug-using regular person.

Reading about Krista made me recall my summer of 1969 spent in San Francisco, California. A popular album among the freaks of the day was The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away. Krista said that speed, her street drug of choice, gave her happiness. Yet at Christmas, or when the kids had birthdays, meth seemed to taketh away. She would get high four days before Christmas, and again before the kids’ birthdays. She missed all these traditionally important family times.

I found myself pulling for Krista. Even now, as I write these lines, I think of Krista and pray she has kept monster meth on the short leash. I hope she has kept to her schedule and kept her health. Or, better yet, maybe she has faced her addiction, fought it, and been reunited with her family. I don’t know.

But, Dubinski’s writing made me care.

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Faces of Meth

Faces of Meth

The next blog in this series will look at the Faces of Meth. A well done bit of propaganda published by everyone doing a meth story. The London Free Press was no exception.

Addendum: The NYT opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof, Drugs Won the War, has elicited a response: Time to End Prohibition for Drugs by Michael G. Brautigam, a former prosecutor. Read his response and following comments.

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