Why We Published A Photo Of A Man Smoking Meth



Unless you didn't pick up the Payson Roundup on Tuesday, it was hard to miss the picture of a man smoking methamphetamine on the front page.

Some people have said it was something they did not want to see, and therein lies the reason we ran it.

Meth has infiltrated our community on a level that few people want to admit.

Employers are having difficulty finding workers who do not have a drug habit. The police are working overtime trying to contain the problem, and children are losing their parents.

Our three-part series on meth in the Rim Country began one edition after we wrapped up a three-part series on foster care. That linking of the two series was not planned, but I find it fitting. They are links in the same chain.

Because we are a community that needs to wake up to the realities of meth in our area, we decided to run the photo of a man doing the drug -- not simply for its shock value -- but in the hopes that it would be an eye-opener.

And it was not an easy photo to get.

Photographer Jason Pettifield was in my office early this past week and we were looking through the pages of "The Best of Newspaper Design," a reference text I refer to often to give me ideas and to challenge me to a higher standard for the Roundup.

The book includes newspapers from around the world and ends with a chapter of award-winning photos.

Pettifield was drawn to a photo of two people shooting heroin, taken by photographer Dan DeLong at The Oregonian.

"I was compelled by that photo," Pettifield said. "It was upfront and powerful in its message.

"The people in it had no regard for the fact they were being photographed."

After seeing the photo, Pettifield attended a meth forum hosted by the Gila County Meth Task Force. He listened as law enforcement described the way a meth addict's body deteriorates and the signs family and friends should look for to identify a meth user.

Inspired by DeLong's photo and discouraged by what he learned about the extent of the meth problem in northern Gila County, he got in his car and drove around town looking for a meth addict.

It didn't take him long to spot one. He saw a man walking in the parking lot of a Payson store. The man was clean-cut and shaven, but the toll meth was taking on his personality and his body were obvious. Jason approached the man, introduced himself and asked if he was, in fact, a meth addict.

"He was combative," Pettifield said. "He became agitated. I explained to him what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted a picture of someone doing meth."

The man agreed.

"He told me to follow him to a house out in the county. I walked into his trailer and he said the photo had to be taken quickly, because other people were on their way."

The trailer smelled of vomit. The floor was littered with open containers of alcohol. The walls were stained and the bathroom door looked like it had been kicked in.

The man took out a light bulb and tried to break off the metal end to make a pipe.

The man broke off the end, filled the bottom with meth and smoked out of the makeshift pipe.

"I took six photos and then ran out of there," Pettifield said.

"I think the photo (I took) tells people that anyone could be on (meth). This guy was clean-cut," Pettifield said. "You don't have to buy anything to smoke it. He was smoking it out of a light bulb."

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