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Meth a Growing Menace in Rural America

An abandoned schoolhouse in Williams County, N.D. Abandoned buildings on remote roads have become favorite places for impromptu methamphetamine labs.
Anne Hawke, NPR /
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An abandoned schoolhouse in Williams County, N.D. Abandoned buildings on remote roads have become favorite places for impromptu methamphetamine labs.

One of the nation's most dangerous drugs is increasingly found in the most unexpected places. The government's latest studies indicate the production and use of methamphetamine -- an addictive stimulant also known as speed -- is escalating, especially in rural areas.

Meth is made using anhydrous ammonia -- also used by farmers for fertilizer. Thefts of anhydrous ammonia storage units have prompted law enforcement officials in some areas to urge farmers to lock their tanks.

Still, meth remains a growing problem in rural America, filling jails, straining police and threatening children and neighbors with exposure to toxic chemicals. It's also severely addictive.

Rural places generally report the highest rates of binge drinking and driving while intoxicated. Some say that suggests a predisposition to substance abuse in rural places -- where some young people complain there's not much else to do.

The problem doesn't discriminate by neighborhood, says Marlyce Wilder, an assistant state prosecutor in Williston, N.D., who finds connections to meth in her own community.

"We had a meth lab about three blocks from my house," Wilder says. "Both neighbors on both sides, their families have been touched by methamphetamine, fairly seriously. And, you know, I think I live in a fairly safe neighborhood."

NPR's Howard Berkes and producer Anne Hawke report.

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