Sowing the Seeds of the Meth Storm
The documentary opens by explaining how we got to this point:
First, law enforcement cracked down on domestic meth production—
- Monitoring the sale of precursor chemicals
- Limiting purchases
- Requiring identification for certain transactions
- Shutting down local meth labs
But when domestic methamphetamine sharply decreased, huge Mexican cartels stepped in, flooding the United States with cheap, incredibly-potent “ice”.
Within the past 10 years, the purity of meth from Mexico has risen from less than 40% to nearly 100%. And while purity is going UP, price is going DOWN, dropping by two-thirds.
International drug trafficking has become such a major enterprise that every community in America is at-risk—even Faulkner County, Arkansas. And by making this small county—population 122,000—the setting for the documentary, the filmmakers have evoked a perception of Anytown, USA.
In the Path of the Meth Storm—The Converse Family
“Not long ago, I was sitting in the same room shooting dope with my mom. Most other families are probably sitting there talking…watching a movie. We’re all sitting there, you know, talking about how thick our shot of dope is. I look back now…that’s not normal.”
First portrayed are the Converses—mother Veronica and her adult children. When we meet her onscreen for the first time, it’s during a drug transaction. Veronica is shown helping a young man shoot up what are apparently huge shards of crystal meth inside his vehicle.
It’s not an easy watch by any stretch of the imagination – on the contrary, it’s cinéma vérité at its most horrifying. But at the same time, you can’t help being struck by a heartbreaking dichotomy:
On the one hand, Veronica is showing a surreal-yet authentic concern when she repeatedly warns the man not to take too much of the drug.
But on the other hand, when he has difficulty because his veins have hardened with repeated abuse, Veronica herself is the one who injects the meth into his arm.
Veronica is only 43, but looks at least 20 years older. Both of her sons have also been meth addicts since their mid-teens.
First, there is Teddy, whom we meet when Veronica bails him out of jail. Teddy and his mother celebrate his freedom by going home and promptly injecting ice. In very short order, he is soon arrested again. Although he is only 26, this is Teddy’s 6th arrest on drug-related charges.
Later, we meet “Little Daniel”. In their first scene together, mother and son shoot up.
Daniel is an almost-stereotypical caricature of a meth addict – thin, twitchy, and paranoid. Weapon in hand, he stalks around his yard wearing broken glasses and searching – for what, we never see.
Left in the Wake of the Meth Storm – Maggie Converse
We are also introduced to Maggie, Veronica’s adult daughter. Unlike the others, Maggie is not a meth addict. Rather, she is the one who has to take care of everyone else.
With Maggie, we are struck by several glaring truths.
- It is obvious that she cares about her family, because she stands by them and tries to help – cooking, cleaning, and showing up to support Teddy in rehab.
- It is also obvious that being forced into the “caretaker” role is taking its toll on her emotionally.
- Finally, whether she would admit it or not, Maggie’s facial expressions and body language show that she is resentful of her addicted family members.
Fighting the Meth Storm—Johnny
“I’ve worked long enough, and so has the sheriff, now…where we’ve arrested people’s parents, and now we’re resting their kids. And sometimes, even their grandkids.”
~ Johnny Sowell
We also meet DEA agent Johnny Sowell, and we see him as he goes along on several raids and drug busts. Watching him in action, it is clear that Johnny blames the drugs, not the people. Even while he is arresting them, Johnny treats these addicts and dealers with compassion and dignity.
Part of the reason might be because apparently Johnny grew up in this same area of rural Arkansas. After arresting one young meth dealer, he even tells the young man that he went to school with his father.
Johnny’s job isn’t easy, and not just because he knows the people he arrests. Budget cuts and the lack of funding make it hard to effectively combat such an implacable enemy as methamphetamine.
Once upon a time, most domestic meth labs were “backyard” operations that produced relatively small amounts of the drug. Now, Mexican cartels have super labs that produce obscene amounts. In one scene, a bust nets 7 pounds of meth worth $300,000.
That’s nothing – Johnny talks about shipments of 20, 30, or even 40 pounds coming through his area.
“It’s really frustrating knowing that I’ve worked for 25 years and that my job is to enforce the laws, the drug laws, and that even with what we do… and no matter how much we do, we just can’t get control of it.”
There Are No Easy Answers
Meth Storm doesn’t offer any solutions to the meth problem that is ravaging Arkansas and so many other areas of the country. And perhaps that is why this documentary is so powerful. The problem is too entrenched and too complicated to be solved by a two-hour film.
So, instead of wrapping everything up neatly or with a Hollywood-style happy ending, Meth Storm just shows us the unvarnished truth of the situation as it is. And maybe that’s what is needed to effectively deal with the larger issue of substance abuse in America – a jolting dose of reality.
The only way that things will ever get better is by addressing reality, not by fighting old misconceptions and prejudices. If that is the message the producers intended, then Meth Storm is an outstanding success.
You can watch the trailer for Meth Storm here.