HBO’s ‘Meth Storm’ goes to the frontline of the drug war

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“He needs to make better choices.”

Near the end of HBO’s despairing, clear-eyed documentary Meth Storm, this message is passed along to a repeat offender who tripped up again. The message comes from a young child and is intended for her father, a meth addict who can’t get out of his own way. It’s delivered by the young girl’s meth-addicted grandmother. In this moment the full weight of Meth Storm lands and it’s tough to watch.

It’s a hopeless situation for a family that isn’t going to get better any time soon.

Meth Storm focuses on a small part of central Arkansas that has been hit hard by methamphetamine use. Earlier in the doc from Brent and Craig Renaud (Shelter, Last Chance High) there is another moment where a drug agent tells a handcuffed suspect that he went to school with the perp’s dad.

The town, which recently had been clean, has been infused with meth that has come up from Mexico. The citizens and law enforcement are both losing this war with drugs. Everybody wants to be done with the drugs, but no one really knows how to stop it. Over the course of Meth Storm it becomes clear that meth will keep winning because it will outlast the users and outlast the money and manpower of the task forces.

It’s hard to feel anything but defeated while watching Meth Storm. It functions as both a call to arms and a blueprint for failure. When an agent recalls arresting multiple generations of a family, the harrowing reality of the situation is inescapable. For as dark a picture as Meth Storm paints, it’s not entirely devoid of hope. The biggest takeaway from Meth Storm is that the holding pattern we’re in is untenable unless we’re able to face harsh truths and find another approach.

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