PIRE Publication - Exploring the Spread of Methamphetamine Problems within California, 1980 to 2006


Background: The introduction and spread of high potency methamphetamine has led to dramatic increases in drug-related problems in California. Prior research suggests that drug abuse rates are related to local demographic and economic characteristics, law enforcement activities, and sentencing practices. Methamphetamine abuse in particular has been shown to be reduced by laws regulating the raw materials needed for its production. This research models the regional effects of such laws on the spatio-temporal patterns of growth of methamphetamine-related problems across California from 1980 to 2006. Methods: Amphetamine-related arrests and hospital discharges related to amphetamine abuse / dependence were assembled for California counties over the years 1980 through 2006. Varying-parameter Bayesian space-time models were used to relate the implementation of major laws controlling the distribution of methamphetamine precursors to observed patterns of arrests and discharges and to allow such associations to vary by location. The models used conditionally autoregressive (CAR) Bayesian spatial priors to allow spatial correlation in estimation of county-specific growth in these measures over three distinct time periods: before the 1989 law, between the 1989 and 1997 laws, and after the 1997 law. Growth of arrests and discharges were related to demographic and economic indicators to determine geographic areas more or less susceptible to the spread of methamphetamine problems. Results: Although both problem measures increased during all three periods, each of the precursor laws was associated with short-term reductions in the growth of arrests and discharges. Growth was greatest in central California counties prior to 1989 and increased in coastal counties in later years. From 1980 to 1989 growth was highest for counties with low incomes and high proportions of white residents, while 1989-1997 growth was highest in counties with fewer whites and more Hispanics. Growth after 1997 was not significantly associated with county characteristics. Conclusion: This research demonstrates that the precursor laws did suppress the growth of methamphetamine related arrests and hospital discharges. It also demonstrates specific geographic patterns in the growth of methamphetamine arrests and abuse across California during this time. Early patterns of growth were related to economic and demographic characteristics, while later patterns were not. This suggests that some counties were uniquely susceptible to the early spread of the methamphetamine epidemic, although problems eventually grew dramatically in all California counties.

Ponicki, William R.
Waller, Lance A.
Remer, Lillian G.
Gruenewald, Paul J.