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The other side of ‘Breaking Bad’: Sensationalizing meth

Editor’s Note: National and local media have made much of the concluding season of Breaking Bad, which is filmed in Albuquerque, and includes well-known local sites and businesses in each episode. This letter from Jason M. Rael, the managing attorney for the Juvenile Division of the New Mexico Public Defender Department, was powerful enough that we wanted to publish it on page one. He asked that we mention that opinions expressed are his, and his alone.


As I came to work today, the news aired another Breaking Bad-related story. Apparently, one of the apartments used in the show is going to be going up for rent.

It seems Albuquerque is really going to miss her TV show. Every week we get some new Breaking Bad update – whether it be an appearance of one of the stars, the sale of the show’s paraphernalia, or an award won by the series.

And, every week, the news is framed in a context that lets us know that we are losing something near and dear to us. And, while I don’t wish to disparage fans of the show, I wanted to talk about another loss this city faced recently.

I am a defense attorney and I work primarily with children who are in the juvenile justice system. Recently, I got word that one of the young women I had been working with passed away. I want to tell you about her and her struggle. Out of respect to her, I will identify her only as CJ.

I met my client a number of months ago. She had been arrested and was in the Metropolitan Detention Center. She was scared and fragile. Though she had been involved in the juvenile system for a number of years, at 18 this was CJ’s first time being in the real jail. She was too skinny, she was unkempt, she was the picture that all of us carry in our minds of a person who is struggling with drugs.

I began working with her. First, I got her into a detox and rehabilitation program at the MDC. As the weeks went by, she began to put on weight. Her complexion and her eyes cleared. She began to smile. She was slowly beginning to become a young woman again. We started talking about what would happen when she got out, how she would continue treatment, about her child, about getting a stable place to stay. Slowly, we were building a future for her.

Some time passed and I was able to secure her release. One of the conditions of her release was that she be carefully monitored and that she follow a strict schedule of rehabilitation. The biggest fear for both of us was that her “friends” would try to pull her back into that destructive life. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Last week, after months of sobriety, CJ overdosed on meth.

Nobody covered that story. No news reporters or articles or TV anchors. So, as Albuquerque mourns the passing of its TV show, please know that there is a real battle going on in this city.

I am not trying to belittle those of you who enjoyed and were followers of the show. That is not my intent at all. Rather, I just want, for one small moment, to take the spotlight off of the sensationalized, fictionalized and glamorized portrayal of meth. I want, for one small moment, for the city to think about this monster called meth that is eating its children alive.

But most of all, I want to give a voice to a beautiful young woman who slipped quietly and anonymously into eternity. A child that was here for a brief time, became ensnared by that ugly and mortal drug, and is now gone.

May God be with you CJ. May you know that there are those in this world who cared.

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