A report released last week by a Washington, D.C., criminal-justice think tank blames the media and public officials for exaggerating the extent of methamphetamine abuse in the United States.

"The Next Big Thing: Methamphetamine in the United States" (www.sentencingproject.org/news.cfm), released by the left-leaning Sentencing Project, concludes there's no national meth epidemic by noting that meth remains one of the country's least-used illegal drugs and that no evidence exists of meth's growing abuse.

The 41-page report also credits Willamette Week's recent cover story (see "Meth Madness," WW, March 22, 2006) in which we examined the exhaustive coverage The Oregonian has given to meth, starting with its 2004 series titled "Unnecessary Epidemic."

WW's report found that Americans' meth abuse most recently has either declined or stayed about the same.

The Sentencing Project's Ryan King writes in the report released last week that, "The Oregonian series repeatedly referred to a 'meth epidemic' in Oregon without providing any statistical support, mischaracterized the significance of the growth in methamphetamine treatment admissions, and suggested a link between Oregon property crime rates and methamphetamine use that has been generally refuted by empirical research."

The Oregonian has defended the statistics used in its coverage (WW found it had written at least 261 stories about meth in an 18-month stretch) by saying meth abuse has been on a long-term rise.

King writes that meth use has not swept the country but has remained concentrated in certain places like Portland and San Diego, where drug tests of arrestees showed a growth in meth use from 1998 to 2003.

But even in cities such as Portland with elevated levels of meth use in that stretch, the report states, total drug use among arrestees has not risen. And King, a policy analyst, says evidence suggests meth has merely replaced other drugs rather than snagging new users.

The program testing arrestees was discontinued after 2003, making it difficult to tell whether Portland has followed the national trend of stabilizing meth use since 1999.

By drumming up panic over a supposed epidemic with one drug, King contends, the media et al. have again derailed national drug priorities, focusing national attention on one evil at the expense of developing a more comprehensive approach to treatment and prevention.

"The real problem is how Capitol Hill works," King says. "They chase those things and throw money at them."