People around the country are finding out about how bad the methamphetamine problem is in parts of central Arkansas.
A new documentary called Meth Storm exposes the danger and viral spread of the drug by highlighting a family from Clinton. It aired for the first time Monday evening on HBO.
Mayor Richard McCormac said he wasn’t familiar with the documentary, but he was very familiar with the area’s crystal meth problem. “I grew up here, and it wasn’t that bad,” he recalled. “And then, over the years, several years ago, methamphetamine came on, and everybody worried about that. And it’s kind of grown exponentially from that.”
The film was made by Brent and Craig Renaud, who were originally from Little Rock. It claims that, as a result of U.S. law enforcement’s work to stop domestic meth production, Mexican cartels have flooded the market with a cheaper, more potent version called “Ice.” Now, people in economically depressed, rural areas such as Van Buren County are prone to abuse.
“They need money, crime goes up, and you have to try to combat that,” McCormac said. “So, I wish I knew the formula. It’s past, ‘lock them up and throw away the key.’”
Meth Storm uses the Converse family as an example of Ice’s destructive nature. But McCormac believes Clinton is not alone in feeling the drug’s impact. “I don’t know of anybody in almost any ‘Small Town, America’ that’s not affected, you know,” he stated. “You know somebody, or have an in-law or something, in some capacity, that’s affected by drugs.”
He added that drugs are not unique to small towns like Clinton, but in cities of all sizes. “I think it’s noticed more in a small town, because you know everybody and its impact,” he reasoned.
Van Buren County has fought back against meth. A series of raids in 2014 called Operation Ice Storm resulted in 55 arrests of suspected members of a meth distribution ring. Cody Hiland, the district prosecutor at the time, said it was an important moment.
“The drug trade is never going to go away completely,” Hiland said at a press conference the day of the arrests. “We’re never going to kill it completely. But today we reared back and we broke its jaw in Van Buren County.”
A local judge told us that crystal meth has only become more pervasive since then. One reason she cited is that there are not enough opportunities, both in jobs and entertainment, to convince people not to use it. But there also are not enough treatment options in Van Buren County to help users break its euphoria-inducing grip.
“There’s been concerted efforts to arrest people, make arrests, and they do, but what’s the next step?” McCormac asked. “You gotta get help for people, gotta get them off this. It’s a bad thing. It’s not like, ‘Dad came in drunk,’ you know. It’s a problem. It’s very addictive, apparently.”
One form of help is expected in January. Conway Counseling is planning to open a second clinic on Shake Rag Road. Currently, it has only one location in Conway, but Van Buren County courts send many of their drug users there for treatment. Ayisha Canant, the company’s founder, said she had not been looking to expand, but said the need was too great to not open a clinic in Clinton.
McCormac added that his church has started an addiction recovery program for 10-12 people. “I think the churches are getting involved, which really is a good thing,” he stated. “I think that’s the best fix for it.”
While Meth Storm will bring increased attention to Clinton, its mayor thinks it will not hurt the city’s reputation.
“A lot of times you see that and you think, well, it’ll be a negative for our town,” McCormac explained, “but I think any small town can relate to that. It’s a problem everywhere. It just happened to be Clinton, Arkansas.”
The film is scheduled to air several more times over the next couple weeks on HBO and HBO2, and it will also be available on-demand to HBO subscribers beginning Tuesday.