Study Finds Dry Counties Have Higher Meth Use Rates

By McCarton Ackerman 09/29/15

Is there a correlation between alcohol bans and meth use?

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Alcohol and meth may not appear to have any correlation between them, but a new study has found that dry counties across the United States also have predominately high rates of meth addiction.

The findings from the University of Louisville in Kentucky also show that dry counties actually have more problems with meth than those in which alcohol is fully legal. Dry counties have about 80 meth incidents per 100,000 residents, while wet counties have 40 incidents per 100,000 residents. By those figures, meth lab seizures in Kentucky would drop by 25% if all counties in the state made alcohol fully legal.

The three states with the highest number of both dry counties and meth addiction are Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Thirty-seven of the 75 counties in Arkansas are dry and meth is the state’s most common illegal drug.

Meth is also the most common illegal drug in Oklahoma, where nearly one-third of the counties are dry. Kentucky also has the same percentage of dry counties out of the 120 in the state and it’s ranked No. 3 in the country for meth production.

Researchers suggested their findings are due to the fact that dry counties often resort to banning alcohol after experiencing problems with a wide range of illicit substances. Banning alcohol also facilitates a larger black market that could lead to more people seeking it out and therefore gaining knowledge on where to obtain harder substances.

"Our results add support to the idea that prohibiting the sale of alcohol flattens the punishment gradient, lowering the relative cost of participating in the market for illegal drugs," wrote the scientists.

Other studies have even touted the benefits of counties going from dry to wet. A 2005 paper in the Journal of Law and Economics found that when counties throughout Texas changed from dry to wet, their incidences of drug-related mortality decreased by 14%. Data from Kentucky State Police also showed that wet counties had lower rates of DUI-related car crashes than dry ones.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.