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Rural America and the Drug Epidemic


Rural America and the Drug Epidemic

You Can’t Talk About Rural Population Decline Without Mentioning Drugs

What scares me the most in rural America is the drug epidemic. You never know when you’re going to walk into somebody’s meth lab.

You never know when you're going to walk into somebody's meth lab. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.
You never know when you’re going to walk into somebody’s meth lab.
Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

I’ve been fighting with the topic of the rural drug epidemic since I decided that I would be making a documentary film on top of the Lost Americana book. The topic was made all the more poignant when in a recent Instagram post I talked about the rural drug epidemic and this post probably got the highest amount of comments any photo I’ve posted has gotten.

The fact that so many people have been touched in someway by this is not lost on me and I struggle with just how to bring it up, as I know for a fact it could (and probably is) a documentary film all by itself.

Let me add, I do not know just how deeply this is effecting every community. I’ve heard some states have it worse than others. Personally I have yet to walk into a place that appears to have had anything illegal happen there beyond possibly teenagers drinking, but every time I step out of my truck towards an abandoned property, or drive down an access road into an area away from the main road, I know I could end up in danger.

Back in the early 1990s when I started driving all over the midwest as a wide-eyed want-to-be professional photographer my biggest concern was getting hit with some bird shot from an angry farmer for being on his land. I can gladly say that over the years I have only once been chased off by people. Oddly enough I was standing on the side of a state route. Most times when I encounter the land owners they’re usually pretty friendly and we end up talking for a good 15-20 minutes when I tell them what I’m doing.

Yet in the towns and small cities that dot the rural landscape I find myself paying extra attention late at night as I pull into rest areas, or gas stations. Like recently when I was in a little one stop light town 100 miles from the nearest major highway and a guy on a bike with no brakes was circling the gas pumps, continually checking his phone. Peddling away to some apartment buildings before coming back a few minutes later and riding up to a car window that had just pulled into the lot. Did I just see a deal go down, or was this just friends meeting up?

While the drug problem was never the cause of population decline, it is absolutely an effect of it. Sadly it’s not just the buildings that are falling into ruins. Sometimes it’s the people too.

Waiting for a friend, or waiting to make a deal? Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.