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Evidence from a meth lab. Source: Mobile County Sheriff's Office

Evidence from a meth lab. Source: Mobile County Sheriff’s Office

Editor’s note: I grew up in Mobile, AL and currently reside in Atlanta. Mobile scares the crap out of me, at the moment.

A few years ago, I had some friends who moved out of Mobile’s ritzy Spring Hill area. One of the reasons, they said, was fear.

You may not be from Mobile, and if you aren’t you can’t appreciate how unusual it would be for someone in that part of town to feel fear. I mean real fear, fear for life, not property. I thought they were overreacting at first.

Mobile never was the quaint little port city the travel guides would have you believe. But it wasn’t bad. It was peaceful, quiet in most quarters, a suburban town with upper middle class ambition.

Each time I return it looks less like that quiet, moderately-gridlocked hometown of my childhood and more like a community unraveling at the edges. I see people who look barely fed walking up and down Airport Boulevard. Yes, that Airport Boulevard, Mobile’s link from its suburbs to its downtown, a place where the car is king.

I recently visited a relative in Providence Hospital and shared the elevator with people who were covered in picked scabs and dressed in unwashed clothes. I saw their darting eyes reflected in the metal elevator door.

There’s an edginess here that wasn’t here before, a creeping desperation that’s snatching up people and spitting them out onto the streets. The “safe” areas look increasingly vulnerable.

Meth use has exploded in Mobile in recent years, taking off in 2007, according to data published by the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and a report produced by the subcommittee of the Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force.

Drug Task Force report

Mobile Sheriff’s Office report

One interesting conclusion of the Task Force report: Apparently Mississippi, the perpetual self-esteem builder for Alabama, passed a law requiring a prescription for purchase of pseudo ephedrine products. That drove many of the cookers and pseudo collectors, known as smurfs, into the counties adjacent to the Alabama state line.

Not surprisingly, Mobile consistently ranked the highest in the amount of pseudo sales blocked by modifications to state law.

I’m not a fan of the Drug War, which I think unfairly punishes people for simple possession of a substance, a nonviolent crime, and creates vast racial disparities in our justice system. I think methamphetamine manufacturers complicate my view of the subject a bit. Meth labs at a minimum damage the environment but also pose a serious risk to innocent people living around them. Thanks to information that’s widely available on the internet, users often become makers to fuel their habit.

The problem has gotten far out of hand in Mobile and that’s not good for a city that has bright economic prospects, with Airbus coming online and whatnot.

I hope that the city’s new-found prosperity also creates new opportunities for people outside of the good ole boy circles.  You’ll never be able to completely erase drug addiction, but expanding prosperity to everyone will give ordinary people more resources to resist it and fight it.