Meth may not have been a factor in the outburst.
A thirty-seven-year-old man was arrested Dec. 21, 2013 following a period of methamphetamine use and civil disobedience that ended in violence. Andrew Frey, after an afternoon of theft and loitering, entered Iggy’s Bar and Grill in Salem, Oregon, and began masturbating in front of the bar. He soon retreated to the bathroom to continue pleasuring himself.
In his attempts to arrest Frey, and stop him from masturbating, the responding officer shot the man with a taser, but this had little effect. As Frey became physically hostile, the officer called for backup, and eventually, fifteen officers were able to subdue Frey and arrest him. Let that sink in for a second—fifteen. Frey later admitted that he had used meth, saying that he had no memories of his actions.
When you get past the mental image that this story conjures—and what an image it is: a crazed man punching cops with one hand, the other shoved furiously into his pants, resisting taser blasts and presumably shouting obscenities—you begin to wonder how such acts of strength and endurance are possible. Was it the drug? Should we be worried that our friendly neighbourhood tweaker is going to start racing trains or leaping buildings in a single bound?
Mount Allison psychology professor Daniel McGrath says no. “Methamphetamine is a very powerful stimulant with a lot of long-term, chronic effects. However, super strength as a result of meth use is really a myth.” While stimulants do induce a physical response (caffeine has been found to improve athletic performance in moderate doses) near-superhuman endurance is extreme and unusual—suggesting that labelling Frey’s actions as a ‘meth-fuelled rampage’ is inaccurate.
Having said that, a recent study found that about fifty per cent of chronic meth users believe that the drug made them more violent. With side effects including hallucinations, paranoia, and aggression, meth certainly plays a role in outbursts like Frey’s. “We don’t know a lot of the details of this particular case,” says McGrath, a specialist in addictions and personality. One alternate explanation for Frey’s behaviour could be a psychotic break.
While there is no definitive information to suggest that this occurred, “it’s probably not a stretch to say that chronic users could find themselves out of touch with reality in a psychotic episode,” says McGrath. Aside from the likely adrenaline rush in such a situation, there are also case-specific factors at play: whether Frey was a particularly strong person, whether he was naturally aggressive, even the potential for overblown reporting of the altercation. McGrath cautions against drawing conclusions about drug effects from stories like this one.
“Something like this would obviously get a lot of media attention,” he says, and this might lead to members of the public jumping to unrealistic conclusions about drugs and their users. The bottom line, though, is that drugs are a serious social issue, and events like this should be viewed as the anomalies that they are.