Recently, the nation got another big laugh at Alabama’s expense as they learned about a drug bust in Limestone County, AL that involved an ‘attack’ squirrel that had allegedly been fed methamphetamine to enhance, um, its’ aggressive nature. The story was undeniably laughable, but it also highlighted some severe issues that have been facing our state. While the opioid crisis has decidedly grabbed the media spotlight, it’s easy to forget that methamphetamine is more popular than ever in Alabama because it’s cheap and widely available. Meth is everywhere — from upscale urban enclaves to homeless camps deep in the woods.

So, the idea of a methed-up attack squirrel can certainly make us giggle, but the reality of adequate funding for people addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs should make us cry. This is especially true because most people that have substance abuse problems typically don’t just abuse one drug; they’ll often do anything to get a buzz. Yet, federal funding to combat the opioid crisis has narrowly focused on just opioids. Put more plainly, there is some funding available to help treat a person’s opioid problem, but that money can’t be shifted to other types of treatment, such as meth or alcohol or co-occurring mental illness, because that money has been politically earmarked.

In 2017, the Drug Enforcement Agency, in its National Drug Threat Survey said that 30% of agencies reported that methamphetamine was the most significant drug threat in their area. The report also found that meth users were significantly more likely to commit violent crime and to overdose. Sadly, the report also noted that methamphetamine prices have dropped to their lowest level in years and that availability has increased.

In 2005, Congress tried to curtail the domestic production of methamphetamine by passing the Combat Methamphetamine Act which limited the amount of pseudoephedrine that consumers could purchase and set up a tracking system to flag large or frequent purchases. Pseudoephedrine is not only a key ingredient in legitimate medications like Sudafed, but also an integral ingredient in manufacturing meth. Well, it worked in terms of suppressing domestic production and for a brief time, use began to decline. Unfortunately, Mexican drug cartels took up the slack and met U.S. demand by supplying a cheaper and purer product. Over the last few years, methamphetamine has been flooding the U.S. with increasingly deadly consequences.

The problem is that states like Alabama continue to put more money and resources into drug interdiction, but they tend to view prevention and treatment as an afterthought. While our jails and prisons are overwhelmed and overcrowded, people that need treatment often can’t afford it or their health insurance policies are fraught with profit-motivated bureaucratic obstacles. Even though the War on Drugs has been an epic failure by every conceivable measure, states like Alabama continue to keep fighting substance abuse by doing the same things they’ve always done and acting shocked when these methods continually fail.

If anything good came out of the Meth Attack Squirrel story, it’s that maybe people will realize that the opioid crisis is just one piece of a much larger issue. Yes, we all had a good laugh at the internet memes parodying the inherent insanity of a Meth Attack Squirrel, but it also shows that we’ve got a lot of work to do to reduce substance abuse in Alabama. It’s time to shift focus and to put more resources into prevention and providing more affordable options for treatment.

We can’t continue to do the same things we’ve always done and expect a different result. That’s almost as insane as the realization that a Meth Attack Squirrel is now running around loose in Limestone County.

Clete Wetli
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.