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The Surprising Rise of Methamphetamine Use Among Suburban Women

Methamphetamine has been called an epidemic -- even in the most unexpected quarters, as this excerpt from Boeri's new book 'Women on Ice' explains.

The following is an excerpt from Women on Ice: Methamphetamine Use among Suburban Women by Miriam Boeri (Rutgers University Press, 2013).

Maggie looked like the typical housewife next door in a suburban community. No one but an experienced user might guess she had injected methamphetamine almost every day during the last six months. She looked younger than her forty-seven years, and her easy smile revealed strong white teeth, inconsistent with the pictures of toothless “faces of meth” displayed on highway billboards by anti-meth campaigns. She looked as if she had just stepped out of the beauty salon with her stylish haircut, manicured nails, and just enough makeup to accent her best features. Maggie was very personable, and we quickly developed affinity over common concerns for people with drug problems. Some of the suburban women I met were reluctant to open up about their personal lives because of the social stigma of their drug use, and it took time to develop a trusting relationship with them. I did not have this problem with Maggie. Her frank turns of phrase, amiable demeanor, and candid communication style conveyed a sense of camaraderie that engendered trust. Having already established good rapport with Maggie, I did not think she would be offended when I asked if her beautiful teeth were her own. “Yeah, I got all my own,” she replied, with a smile that reassured me she understood why I had asked. Tooth decay was a common problem among methamphetamine users.

Maggie lived most of her life in the same suburban area where she lives today. She was close to her family, especially the grandmother she cared for until her death. She had three children and was extremely bonded to her family and loved ones. Her otherwise conventional suburban life included dealing cocaine and methamphetamine, which supplemented her husband’s income.

Compared to many drug users, Maggie started her drug career relatively late. Believing the anti-drug warnings she had heard in high school, she never used marijuana, which she called pot -- the slang term used by her generation. It was not until she graduated from high school that she tried pot at a party, mainly because she did not like to drink alcohol. She discovered that marijuana did not give her the stomach problems she got from drinking, and it made her feel relaxed and more sociable. She also experimented with a trendy drug at the time, Quaaludes (methaqualone), available in pill form, for much the same reason she used marijuana occasionally -- they were a depressant but did not give her a hangover.

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Illegal drugs were used in her social network and offered to her at different points in her life. Typically, drugs held no appeal when she first tried them. For example, Maggie experimented with a homemade type of methamphetamine, known as crank, a few times as a young adult, but she never liked it. The motivational push that led to her continued use of methamphetamine came years later when she was a young mother. Trying to lose weight after having kids, she sought help from a doctor. Like many women who marry, have children, work at home, and live in suburban communities where errands and shopping are done in a car, Maggie had little time or opportunity for physical exercise, and she gained more weight than she wanted. Her plump figure put a damper on what was otherwise the perfect suburban housewife role she adeptly occupied.

In our society, the symbolic wife is expected to keep a clean house, cook delicious and varied meals, help with the children’s schoolwork and extracurricular activities, uphold the family’s social reputation, and contribute to the household income by holding a flexible job with little career opportunity. Beyond this, the postmodern wife is expected to be a ready and prepared sex partner with a model figure at any age. A television show popular early in the twenty-first century, Desperate Housewives, depicts this type of suburban woman with an edgy twist but lacks the “supermom” role most real suburban mothers have to maintain. Maggie’s story was not far removed from the script of this television phenomenon. To help her lose weight, the doctor prescribed diet pills. When she moved and could not find a doctor who would give her a prescription, a friend offered her a drug that was better and cheaper -- and that was her first taste of a form of methamphetamine called ice: “At that time a quarter gram was fifty dollars. I was like, wow. And having done crank, I was like, what? Crank was okay, but I didn’t like it. That was really what they call bathtub crank, and I mean it could kill you. It was like lye and acid and all this other stuff. Whereas ice was supposed to be something that you could do one line and be up twelve hours.”

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