Breaking Bad Normalizes Meth, Argues Prosecutor

  • Share
  • Read Later

I work as a felony prosecutor in a town where methamphetamine is our biggest narcotics problem. I’m also a big fan of Breaking Bad, but whenever I ask colleagues (particularly law-enforcement officers) whether they’ve been following the show, I invariably get the same answer: “Absolutely not. I refuse to watch any show that glorifies that lifestyle.”

I certainly sympathize with those who are concerned about the glorification of methamphetamine. Meth is pure evil. Meth addicts are often barely recognizable as human, and every meth user is an addict; there is no such thing as a casual or social meth user, at least not in the end. People who use that drug will generally continue to do so until it destroys their lives and the lives of the people who care about them.

For a while I tried to convince others that Breaking Bad doesn’t really glorify meth; in fact, it mercilessly portrays the self-destruction that follows naturally from meth addiction. I argued that the show doesn’t promote meth any more than Schindler’s List promotes Nazism — that is, it may desensitize viewers to the horrors of that particular world, but it would never encourage them to adopt the lifestyle. After all, it’s only a TV show.

But lately I’ve become convinced that my colleagues are right to be concerned about the popularity of Breaking Bad and its effect on our communities.

Law-enforcement officers’ duties bring them into contact with the drug-addled on a daily basis, so the proliferation of dangerous drugs directly affects their lives and families more than it might affect yours or mine. And while Breaking Bad may not glorify meth in the sense of making it attractive to the average viewer, it does normalize the idea of meth for a broad segment of society that might otherwise have no knowledge of that dark and dangerous world.

(MORE: ‘Ozymandias’: What Does That Breaking Bad Episode Title Mean)

Before Breaking Bad, relatively few people knew someone whose life had been touched by meth, but now millions more people have an intense emotional connection with at least two: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. And suddenly, for those spellbound viewers, the idea of people using meth is a little less foreign, a little more familiar. And that false sense of familiarity is inherently dangerous.

Does this mean that watching an episode of Breaking Bad will cause responsible adults to run out and find a local meth dealer? Clearly not, and I have no interest in blaming television writers and producers for the destructive choices that other people make. But when a critically acclaimed television show centered on the drug world so permeates popular culture that it becomes the subject of watercooler talk and Jimmy Fallon parodies, there can be little doubt that some people on the margins of society will be drawn into that world, if only out of morbid curiosity. Breaking Bad is great art, but sometimes great art affects culture negatively. We can acknowledge that fact without calling for censorship or puritanism.

(MORE: AMC Will Supersize Last Two Episodes of Breaking Bad)

So as the curtain comes down on Breaking Bad, I will certainly be watching. I can’t help myself. And I would still encourage others to tune in as well, because the story is compelling and, on balance, highly moral. But I’ll have misgivings. I’ll continue to wonder about the long-term effects of mainstreaming such a dangerous drug into popular culture. I’ll be mindful that there are others for whom the consequences of drug addiction are a miserable and persistent reality, not merely the stuff of a TV drama, no matter how “gritty” and artful and captivating.

Blake Ewing is an assistant district attorney who lives near Austin. This piece was adapted from a post originally published by Ricochet.com. The views expressed are solely his own. 

85 comments
lizilla82
lizilla82

It barely touches the idea of actual meth use. It's about the empire behind it, and it's certainly not glorified. Has this writer SEEN BrBa? The last few episodes alone are a textbook for why NOT to produce and distribute meth.

AnthonyDewitt
AnthonyDewitt

You like most over zealous anti drug cops are full of crap. Meth is just another drug like coke or dozens of pharmaceticals readily available by prescription. Its a lie that everyone who tries it becomes an addict monster. Thats like saying anyone who ever needed morphine for pain is a junkie. 

Military pilots on long missions routinely use amphetamines with no real ill effects. millions of children take adderall every day, and that is just another version of meth.  

harriswillys
harriswillys

I regret to say that I've had personal dealings with meth heads, and why the show never appealed to me. 

You can never trust someone on meth, you are not dealing with a rational individual, a girlfriend or family member, you are dealing with a drug which is utterly amoral. It will steal and murder to support its habit. 




winthrop3
winthrop3

While I also really like the show and think it is great art, it does have the problem that a viewer does not get a truely  proportional impression of the immense damage done to society by those who provide the drug.  The show just focuses on the rather narrower damage done to the suppliers and their families which is a rather small fraction of the total societal harm.

ShadowWalker343
ShadowWalker343

@rotorhead1871

rotorhead1871: " just kill walter in a vicious manner ..like what happens to all meth dealers.....and  show their customers downfall, rotton teeth, rap sheets, times in the drunk tank, jumping off buildings.......everyone will get the message....."

  And you KNOW how many dealers that were killed for selling Meth? 0 

I quit Meth long ago, after using it hardcore. No dealers(I knew quite a few.) were killed and I only heard of one being caught. My teeth started going, rue...at the same age as my mother's did and she never touched a drug in her life. My rap sheet, while on Meth was completely empty, I never spent time in a drunk tank(Which wouldn't make sense for using Meth anyway.) and I haven't jumped off any buildings since I was a kid and that was for fun. What's the REAL problems with Meth, other than the scare tactics you are posting from watching tv shows?

Meth leads to a lack of conscience, hallucinations start around Day 3-4 of no sleep, best friends turn on each other just for getting a parking ticket, friends steal objects from other friends, check fraud, car thefts, disattachment from old friends, an insatiable sex drive(Not necessarily in a good way.), etc.

The biggest problem with these comment sections are those of you who haven't a clue, other than from media or books commenting about something you haven't a clue about.

A great example of that is the author writing: "Meth addicts are often barely recognizable as human, and every meth user is an addict; there is no such thing as a casual or social meth user, at least not in the end." 

Really? Because I wa s cleaner than ever for 3 showers a day, lost enough weight and exercised enough to get into the best shape of my life and took the time(As I had so much with rarely sleeping.) to make myself dressed up better than normal. In addition, I walked away 6 months later without the constant craving that addicts have. I could still taste on my tongue or feel it in my lungs for a bit, but I hadn't the desire, nor the addiction that forced me to get more after that. So what really led to me quitting? My, supposed, best friend of that time tried setting me up while I was on my honeymoon. At that point, I had no use for that person, the drug or any of the other f"friends that went along with the drug. That was almost a decade ago. Before anyone says it..I didn't do any recovery cults or therapy to quit either.

midnitemgt
midnitemgt

The only way to prove that the show has influenced the use or sale of meth is by factual statistics. 

As far as I have seen the show has never promoted nor shown positive experiences with ether its use or the distribution of the drug, other then the ability to make fast cash at the high risk of ether blowing up  ones self, jail time or murdered by rivals.


carl.barelli
carl.barelli

I think the bigger issue is that people just watch too much TV.   Turn it off, get on your bike and spend some time outside.

MickeyCashen
MickeyCashen

When I graduated with my 2nd degree in chemistry in 1975, numerous people asked me to consider synthesizing illegal drugs.  In one case, they would have actually been legal.

Socially irresponsible chemists were making "analogs" of known drugs like LSD.  These are call "Designer Drugs."  They would synthesize perhaps one dozen chemicals with just slightly different chemical formulas from each other so they still had the hallucinogenic or narcotic effect, but were technically legal because their specific formulas had never been encountered before.

For example if they made drinking alcohol, CH3CH2OH (ethanol) illegal, someone might synthesize CH2FCH2OH (2-fluoro-ethanol) - substituting a fluorine for a hydrogen- and find it had the same intoxicating effect and didn't kill the user (disclaimer: I don't know the actual effects here, this is just an example and I don't want to use the formulas of real hallucinogens).  Soon many chemists would be making the fluoro- version since it wasn't illegal and had been proven to work.

When the government would declare one illegal, the chemist would flush all the rest of that one down the toilet and begin selling one of the other analogs that hadn't yet been declared illegal.  I refused, for moral and ethical reasons, to do so even though my training was in synthetic organic chemistry and my job was to design ways to make legal pharmaceutical intermediates for my employer, a division of Dow Chemical.

Finally, after the urging of many of us chemists, "The Designer Drug Act" was passed that made all analogs illegal.

I'm glad I never got caught up in that mess, which could have placed me in a compromised position where I'd have to keep supplying people to keep them happy.


apwebs
apwebs

Meth USE is hardly shown in this show at all.  This show is like The Wire, it's about the distribution, not the use.  It portrays the life of black-market distribution of an illicit substance.  The fact that is "meth" is almost irrelevant.

klattalexis
klattalexis

Knowledge is Power.  I prefer to be in the loop as opposed to being in denial.  Isn't this how Hitler came to power?

One of Bin Laden sons in his book Growing up Bin Laden, explains that was the plan - make drugs easily assessable to all their enemies & then take over the world.  Sounds like its working!

MichaelSalling
MichaelSalling

What drugs should we fail to decriminalize / legalize? Whatever drugs we want to see 14 year olds selling on the street corners of the inner cities and suburbs. Breaking Bad has done a service to the population by revealing the extent of the underground meth industry that flourishes despite billions spent on the DEA and the "War on Drugs." Prohibition is not now and never has been the answer. To get the answers visit Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. leap.org / http://www.leap.cc/

realoldguy
realoldguy

"Breaking Bad" doesn't encourage meth use -- it promotes meth manufacture as a way of making more money than you can get teaching high school. It's just a white bread version of the black gangstah mythology. We haven't seen many tweakers in the story other than in terms of how they affect the main characters. Or they just pop up once in awhile for comic relief. After all, who gives a damn about drug users, other than to punish them or make a buck treating them?

Nuke
Nuke

9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan "normalized" the idea of terrorism and suicide bombing to the public as well. I don't see droves of citizens running off to make suicide vests and IEDs. Weak argument by an author seeking name recognition by manufacturing an issue related to a popular show.

TravisKidd
TravisKidd

Personally, I while I find Breaking Bad to be great drama, I feel if somebody wants to do do meth, let them get the Darwin Award and eventually OD.  One less idiot in the world. 

BryanJ.Maloney
BryanJ.Maloney

So, what is the point of this silly little screed? Is he calling for government censorship of "dangerous TV shows"? Is he just having a political diarrhea moment? What was the point of this?

SeanLaney
SeanLaney

"Meth is pure evil. Meth addicts are often barely recognizable as human, and every meth user is an addict; there is no such thing as a casual or social meth user, at least not in the end. People who use that drug will generally continue to do so until it destroys their lives and the lives of the people who care about them."


That must be why we regularly prescribe Desoxyn and Adderall to children. Because if it is made by Big Pharma that magically makes it safe.

rotorhead1871
rotorhead1871

just kill walter in a vicious manner ..like what happens to all meth dealers.....and  show their customers downfall, rotton teeth, rap sheets, times in the drunk tank, jumping off buildings.......everyone will get the message........

ClintCooper
ClintCooper

Are kids in your neighborhood using Adderall (amphetamine salts) prescribed by a doctor? If so they might see a TV show in which they realize they are ingesting something purer that Walter's BLUE ICE.

What's really scary is how the phamaceutical industry get to cook up and dose out whatever they want, and buy the doctors all along the way. 

Not saying some people don't need it, but it is AMPHETAMINE being givin to millions of kids

BuboSibiricus
BuboSibiricus

This guy is a prosecutor and uses this kind of so-called logic?

Since Breaking Bad is basically Greek Tragedy, I guess you can also say that this means the play "Oedipus Rex" promotes sleeping with your mom.

Moron.

Hey Blake Ewing, you need to go back to the professor that taught your undergrad Logic class and get him to change your grade to an F.  


AndrewK777
AndrewK777

Do they not have meth in your neighborhood? This is a reality in most major urban areas and a lot of rural ones too. The show doesn't glorify it in any way. Most of the characters on that show are portrayed as dirtbags. Even the leads.

muao
muao

I totally agree with the author of this article. I live in a mid-sized city in Germany, where meth never has been a big deal. Since the show has aired here, things are different. Now you see little kids spraying the word "meth" on walls and acting like they are Jesse or Walt. I'm not saying they are or will be using meth, but they definitely get desensitized. They don't see it as something bad they have to avoid at any cost. They actually are more likely to want to get in touch with it and it only needs one moral-free dealer to make that happen.

strathmeyer
strathmeyer

Does this "journalist" think that ignorance is blis??

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

Get real, man. We give this stuff to our kids for decades to smarten them up. Cops only protest so much because this is another step in ending the drug war that provides so much of their money and privilege.

Nothing wrong with meth that's not wrong with every other addictive substance on earth, such as alcohol, nicotine, sex, and coffee.

Regulate and tax, teach people the real risks from an early age, help those who need help overcoming their addictions when they are ready to overcome them. Of course, your cop friends wouldn't like that because there wouldn't be as many cars for them to seize and they would no longer have an excuse for a budget upgrade every year.

http://llltexas.com <- my blog

jeaniechampagne
jeaniechampagne

I definitely get the desensitization effect -  but only one side is the focus - the "business' of the meth product ( I am not condoning + I am an RN)..  in reality, it's a low in entertainment - actually I can't stand creepy Walt or weak Skylar.  I mean, plenty of movies have worse plots, including other entertainment venues.  The thing with these soap operas, if you will, we become attached to the characters --  and secretly root for them.

KelleyDavis
KelleyDavis


What your fellow LEO's are seeing in Breaking Bad is how the drug war makes normal people in to criminals threw temptation driven by desperation. It's the old, old story. Diminish supply threw prohibition to drive prices up and corner the market on both sides of the law. We are all  trapped in the game only criminals and police are profiting from. Normal people pulled to one side or the other by money so easy. Hunters and the hunted. The devil is pointing and laughing at us. In striving for heaven on earth we have instead created hell. 

 That is what the show is about.  


BhigBhadWolf
BhigBhadWolf

Am I watching a different show from everyone else? Because the Breaking Bad I watch doesn't glorify it at all. In fact, it shows how EVERYTHING can fall terribly and horribly apart. What a b.s. article this is. Drug use is rampant because of weak people. Let nature run it's course, and let them DIE.

EricJacobson
EricJacobson

And Church promotes walking on water, raising the dead and hanging out with small men who climb trees.

Get real. People know fact from fiction, and Breaking Bad is clearly fiction. So is religion, but you can't win them all...

RandyMelson
RandyMelson

One of the most absurd and intellectually shallow screeds I've ever read on any subject.

Unfortunately, it is this same simple-minded, naïve, black and white thinking that created the destructive "war on drugs". A war that has created a police state in the US and a narco-terrorist state in Mexico. 

holly123
holly123

I disagree with the article and to be honest, i'm slightly offended for breaking bad, one of the best, if not the best, show in television history. breaking bad is not trying to normalize anything. it's just a tv show and like other shows, its purpose is to entertain. viewers should not take it personally. what about sons of anarchy, game of thrones and dexter to name a few? are these shows trying to normalize guns/prostitution, incest and killings?? i don't think so. tv along with books and music are all forms of entertainment. if people know they are easily influenced, then they shouldn't want to be exposed to anything. they should cover their ears and close their eyes (like marsattack64 said). breaking bad, not only does not normalize meth, it shows us the destructive side of meth-therefore deterring people from doing this deadly drug.

marsattacks64
marsattacks64

He has a right to his opinion, but it sounds to me like he thinks we would be better off if we covered our ears, closed our eyes and pretended there isn't a problem.  These problems have existed for a long time and Breaking Bad is giving us a chance to see how destructive it is.

ForTehNguyen
ForTehNguyen

Walking Dead normalizes violence against the living impaired making a brain eaters life harder

ForTehNguyen
ForTehNguyen

another busy body trying to protect us from ourselves.  Stay in Austin

ashleyhorning
ashleyhorning

" it does normalize the idea of meth for a broad segment of society that might otherwise have no knowledge of that dark and dangerous world." 

Exactly. In general people can be easily influenced, especially by what's on TV. Though I don't think you'd find many people on here saying they've been influenced. I doubt there's a strong correlation between meth users and Time readers.  But I do like surprises. 

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

Breaking bad didn't normalize meth, your uncle Cletus did!

jamesfleisher
jamesfleisher

One thing I noticed is that Breaking Bad doesn't show any nasty looking meth heads like the ones I see around my Northern CA rural town.  I understand, that would really turn off viewers.  In fact, I have a lot of trouble even looking at the before and after meth signs they have around where I live; they are disgusting.  I think most people understand that this is a fictive tv show, though, and that meth isn't really like that. 

DustinWhitaker
DustinWhitaker

@ShadowWalker343 @rotorhead1871 In pure form, perhaps. But to say meth isn't dangerous means that you've had a very good experience that does not reflect that of every user.  Meth ruins lives.  We need Marijuana legal but before we get that done, let's stop saying that the sh1t people are cooking in their homes using dollar store chemicals is "safe".  It most certainly is not.  I learned that long before Cranston was cast for Malcom in the Middle.

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

@ShadowWalker343 @rotorhead1871

I agree, meth really isn't that bad. I was on a legal version of the stuff for 2 decades, some of that time on way too high of a perscription. I have absolutely no injuries or cravings for the stuff, and an awful lot of money and prestige to show for it. By the way, my teeth never went bad, and I don't even brush them (just lucky, I guess, perfect amount of fluoride excess in my childhood...almost immune to cavities, though I do brush them now)

It's not that bad. It only has horrible side effects to people who can't handle or control it, just like everything else from sex to alcohol to watching TV.

Offer help to those who need help when they are ready for the help. Locking them in a cage and forcing them to say 'yes sir' to a treatment officer is counterproductive.

http://llltexas.com <- my blog

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

@MichaelSalling There really isn't much of an underground meth industry. It's hard to get that much of those chemicals without lots of cops breaking down your door and shooting your dog.

On the other hand, it's very easy to get small amounts of those chemicals without being caught. Then you use them in a 'home bake' operation in a soda bottle to make small quantities of meth for your own use. Toss the soda bottle out the window of a car after ingesting the product and all the evidence is someone else's problem.

Of course that's horrible for the environment, those chemicals are pretty harsh on the wildlife.

If we legalized this stuff and allowed people to buy it from pharmacies that procured from government-regulated labs instead of soda bottles then the only ones hurt would be the meth heads, and a lot less of them would be hurt a lot less than those who get 'felony prosecution' from people like the lady who wrote this horrible article.

http://llltexas.com <- my blog; without drug formlas, sorry

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

@realoldguy IMHO it promotes meth cooking as a way to make money if you are really desperate. This may very well cause an increase in meth cooking, because we have a lot of desperate people in America that we don't take proper care of.

Legalize and regulate. Better they get it from a pharmacy along with an offer of help than be forced to shoot up with a dirty needle in an ally next to a terrorist financier.

http://llltexas.com <- my blog

rotorhead1871
rotorhead1871

@AndrewKamadulski 

exactly....now just kill off the dopers......all of them.......suppliers, dealers, users.........in the last episode......and do a good job of showing the tragedy of all of it.....

jesuguru
jesuguru

@XiraArien1 You're comparing meth tweakers to coffee addicts (admittedly like myself)? Some fair points in your post, but please dispense with the false equivalencies.

jesuguru
jesuguru

There are better websites to promote your hostility towards religion. Good luck, and God bless.

trevortrevors29
trevortrevors29

There's plenty of nasty looking meth heads on the show .. The couple that stole ATM and robbed. Combo / the 2 guys that stole a few pounds from Gus / jesses house party guests / the hooker - come to think of it - have you even watched the show?!

DustinWhitaker
DustinWhitaker

@ShadowWalker343 @rotorhead1871 I guess I should point out that I happen to believe that drugs only amplify your personality.  They're simply catalysts when you look at their use long-term.  If you didn't come out of it with a rap-sheet and a list of enemies, maybe you weren't useless to society to begin with. Be it parenting or extemporaneous circumstances, the person doing the drugs most likely would self-destruct if that is where their personality leads them, given they find an easy means of doing so. 

So what I said before is a little bit to specific. Thinking back, the people I'm thinking of when I say that their lives were "ruined" probably would have done a bang-up job at living a p.o.s life anyway, just less "amplified".

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

@jesuguru @XiraArien1 You know, they are both CNS stimulants. If you drink way too much coffee it's actually a lot like taking a little too much meth. (I've done both, and legally)

The main differences are that coffee is acceptable and meth is not, and that it takes a larger volume of coffee than meth to produce bad (any) effects. Kind of like beer is better than Everclear or Absinth.

You are conflating effect with potency. The effects are only very slightly different, and tend to actually favor meth instead of coffee. (helps with concentration and alertness more than coffee, while producing less side effects, but only if you take a rational amount)

The main legal difference is that coffee became popular before we started prohibition and everyone was doing it, it became so cultural that it was hard to dislodge. That almost happened with Coke and cocaine, but it was thwarted before it became established enough to resist puritan pressure.

http://llltexas.com <- my blog