Counties that ban the sale of alcohol (dry counties) tend to have higher numbers of meth labs, a new study by a group of economists from the University of Louisville suggests.
Kentucky in particular attracted the attention of the economists, as the state has a lot of dry counties, and also has a rising number of meth labs. A White House report says that the number of “meth lab incidents” jumped from 297 in 2007 to 696 in 2009.
Researcher Jose Fernandez and his colleagues discovered when they looked at the data that “dry” counties, where alcohol sales are banned, had twice as many meth-lab seizures (when accounted for population) when compared to “wet” counties, which allow alcohol sales.
Based on this analysis, the research team estimated that if all dry or “moist” counties (where only limited areas within a county are allowed to sell alcohol) were converted to wet counties, the number of meth labs in those areas could fall by more than a third.
Although the economists only draw a correlation between dry counties and meth labs, the team speculated why this correlation exists and came up with the following reasoning:
- Bans on alcohol sales makes booze relatively expensive and makes meth a more affordable alternative.
- Drinkers who get alcohol from illegal sources are more likely to hear about other illicit products, like meth, than they would if they bought alcohol legally from a supermarket or other alcohol retailer.
- In dry counties, the punishment for getting caught with drugs is not that much more severe than getting caught with illegal alcohol.
While the data is limited to Kentucky, previous studies show that the spread of meth labs appears similar in other states with dry countries.