Breaking bad news

To the Editor:

No, it was not an early April Fool’s headline. “Meth Lab busted in Town Hill” was the lead headline in last week’s Islander. No this is not TV, this is real life in our own backyard.

Chances are it is the kind of headline that shocks us for a moment, but that we chose to forget, consciously or not, as soon as possible. It elicits far too troublesome feelings.

For many Americans, the word “methamphetamine” is what Walter, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher in the television show “Breaking Bad,” produced and sold in a desperate attempt to save his family from financial ruin. Walter’s desperation was fueled by having terminal cancer while he loved his wife and their teenage son battled cerebral palsy.

This TV series, which ran from 2008 to 2013, was one of the highest rated shows in history, winning numerous awards including two Golden Globe awards.

While some might argue that the show glorified the drug trade, for most viewers, it was a dark and deeply tragic story. What made the show compelling was the tension between Walter’s humanity and his devious, terrible decisions. You didn’t like what he was doing, but on some level, you could understand him.

As the show progressed and Walter became more and more entangled with vicious drug cartels, his personality gradually shifted, and he became less likable and changed from protagonist to antagonist. His downward spiral became a metaphor for the self-destructive destiny of all drug addiction.

Until recently, Maine was spared a large meth user population. But in recent years, the number of small meth labs has grown steadily up the coast. Meth can be produced easily even in a vehicle. In Ellsworth, at least two meth labs were closed down last year. Through my work on the Leadership Committee of the Acadia Family Center in Southwest Harbor, I know local experts say its use is still dwarfed by the other dugs like opiates. But meth triggers a more volatile high and can lead to violence.

Mount Desert Island is not the hardened landscape of New Mexico where “Breaking Bad” was filmed. It is certainly far from the bleak urban ghettos which we associate with hard drugs.

In our pristine and relatively safe environment, it comes as a nasty shock to discover the production of hard drugs right here on our own island. Maybe this is a wake up call.

In these political times, we see the State of Maine cutting back on substance abuse treatment programs. Are we slipping into the same darkness that pervaded “Breaking Bad?” Are our own short-sighted policies fabricating a climate that fosters terrible personal choices? Are our elected politicians like Walter’s own brother-in-law, a gun-trotting Federal Drug Enforcement agent chasing the wrong criminals, while real ones operate quietly right in our own backyard?

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