"I'd like to tell you that all the hard work that everyone's doing has indeed turned the corner," Mahon says, "that we're doing this fantastic job. But, right now, we don't actually see objective indications that that's happening."
One of Mahon's frustrations was apparent a few weeks ago, during a trip to Washington, D.C. At a meeting of fellow antidrug warriors, someone pointed out that recent "DOVE reports"--which track arrestees' self-reporting drug use--indicate that meth is on the wane.
"I heard phrases like, 'I think we've turned the corner,' from people who should know better," Mahon says. "What they did is to rely purely on a single, flawed statistic to come up with this rosy assessment."
Mahon suggests another reason:
"The DOVE reports probably have little to do with real-world drug use. The guy who does meth isn't necessarily going to stay dumb. The first time he admits to methamphetamine use, he may not know the consequence of his statement, but the second time he's going to clam up. Nowadays, it's the last thing you want to admit to using because, holy smokes, meth users are being associated with people who cut their kids' heads off."
Equally exasperating is the struggle police face against smalltime meth cooks:
"There's almost a professional disincentive for people to wrestle with an issue that's almost impossible to wrestle with. How can you possibly go into every suspect's home in a community, and try to keep him from cooking ounce quantities of methamphetamine in their kitchen? There's too many holes in the dike."
Mahon answers the question of why there's a meth czar and not, say, a crack czar or an acid czar:
Mahon says his unit's target groups include, in order: youngsters who've never tried methamphetamine; the parents of those youngsters; employers; and, last, people whose meth habits already are well-established.
"The latter group will eventually die," he says, "but you can't, to steal an old Navy term, just push them off the deck. You have to treat them humanely. But I really believe that, except for that segment that's too far gone on drugs, a large number of people will respond at some point."
To that end, the unit--with the pro bono assistance of Valley ad agencies--has started to air public service announcements.
"We're looking at the DHS' [state Health Department] series of anti-tobacco spots as our model," Mahon says. "Some very effective, meaningful, in-your-face stuff."
The advertisements won't be as histrionic as the videos produced recently by the City of Glendale, Tweakers for Teachers and Tweakers: The Grim Realities of Crystal Meth.
"What's everybody looking at?" a male tweaker asks himself as he meanders down a school hallway. "Something stinks. Is that me? Is that me? I'm itching. I'm itching! I'm crashing! Oh, God, let me just die!"
A young female commentator remarks grimly: "The stuff actually shrinks your brain."
She raises a point that hints at the extensive use of meth in the Glendale school district: "Crystal, we all know it's no good. . . . We've all heard of people who've lost it on crystal."
The Reefer Madness air of the videos notwithstanding, it's hard to fault Glendale's effort--at least the city made one. Arizona State University has no methamphetamine education component on campus.
Also, in a drug-use-on-campus survey last October, school officials neglected even to ask students about their experience with methamphetamine.
DEA spokesman Larry Hedberg identifies three local high schools in different parts of town to illustrate the growing methamphetamine use among teens: North Canyon High in north Phoenix, Trevor Browne High in west Phoenix, and Horizon High on the Phoenix-Scottsdale border. (Asked to comment on meth use at their schools, no administrators returned calls by press time.)
"There's a whole generation today that's never heard the 'speed kills' stuff," Hedberg says. "They think meth was invented just for them."
Steve and JoAnne
If she hadn't accidentally broken her glass pipe last night, JoAnne says, she would have smoked herself to death by morning.
"I had to have that pipe in my mouth," she says, vacantly. The Phoenix mother of two is crashing as she speaks. "It didn't matter if my pulse was 200. I didn't care."