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The Meth Epidemic - Inside America's New Drug Crisis July 31, 2005 - yahoo.com
White House Focus on Marijuana in Anti-Drug Efforts Seen as Out of Touch by Those on Front Line of Meth War; Meth 'Is an Epidemic and a Crisis Unprecedented,' says Narcotics Official In Hard-Hit Oregon
NEW YORK, July 31 -- The Bush administration has made marijuana the major focus of its anti-drug efforts, both because there are so many users (an estimated 15 million Americans) and because it considers pot a "gateway" to the use of harder substances. But those fighting on the front lines of the drug war say the White House is out of touch and the focus should be on methamphetamine abuse. "It hurts the federal government's credibility when they say marijuana is the No. 1 priority," says Deputy District Attorney Mark McDonnell, head of narcotics in Portland, Ore., which has been especially hard hit by meth. Meth, he says, "is an epidemic and a crisis unprecedented."
In the August 8 Newsweek cover "The Meth Epidemic" (on newsstands Monday, August 1), West Coast Editor David J. Jefferson examines how methamphetamine, once derided as "poor man's cocaine," popular mainly in rural areas on the West Coast, has seeped into the mainstream in its steady march across America. Newsweek also looks at the efforts being made, both nationally and in communities, to combat the scourge. The highly addictive stimulant is hooking more and more people across the socioeconomic spectrum, from soccer moms to computer geeks to factory workers.
In a July 18 speech to district attorneys, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said that "in terms of damage to children and to our society, meth is now the most dangerous drug in America." Members of Congress whose districts have been ravaged by the drug are forcing the issue. "To the extent that we have to choose between fighting meth and marijuana, we need to be fighting meth," says Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), who along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D- Cal.) has introduced the first big federal bill to address the problem, which would put strict restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine-based products.
According to federal estimates, more than 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine and 1.5 million are regular users. Meth-making operations have been uncovered in all 50 states; Missouri tops the list, with more than 8,000 labs, equipment caches and toxic dumps seized between 2002 and 2004.
On the Hill last week, members vented their frustration over the deputy drug czar office's level of attention to the problem. "This isn't the way you tackle narcotics," said GOP Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana. "How many years do we have to see the same pattern at an increasing rate in the United States until there's something where we have concrete recommendations, not another cotton- pickin' meeting? ... This committee is trying desperately to say, 'Lead!'" Despite the congressional clamor, the White House has been loath to just throw money at the problem. "Meth is a serious priority for us, as evidenced by programs like drug-endangered children, access to recovery, drug courts and community coalitions, among others," says Tom Riley, spokesman for Office of National Drug Control Policy. "I'm afraid there's also an element of people 'crying meth' because it's a hot new drug."
As Newsweek reports, meth addicts are pouring into prisons and recovery centers at an ever-increasing rate, and a new generation of "meth babies" is choking the foster care system in many states. One measure of the drug's reach: Target, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid and other retailers have moved nonprescription cold pills behind the pharmacy counter, where meth cooks have a harder time getting at them. The active ingredient in those pills is pseudoephedrine, a chemical derivative of amphetamine. The "pseudo" is extracted from the cold pills, and cooked with other chemicals like iodine and anhydrous ammonia-using recipes readily available on the Internet-over high heat.
Last year Oklahoma became the first state to put pseudoephedrine pills behind the counter. And there's been a noticeable difference. "Meth labs have all but disappeared in Oklahoma," says Mark Woodward, press aide for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, which reports a 90 percent drop in lab seizures since the legislation was enacted. Seventeen other states have followed Oklahoma's example.
Also in the cover package, Miami Bureau Chief Arian Campo-Flores reports on how burn units at hospitals are facing financial crises because of the numbers of meth lab explosion victims they're treating, most of whom lack health insurance. At the Vanderbilt University Burn Center in Nashville, Tenn., as many as a third of the burn cases at a given time in the past year have been meth-related. "If we continue to take on this large burden" of $5 million to $10 million per year in uncompensated care, says Dr. Jeffrey Guy, Vanderbilt's burn director, "I don't know if we will have a burn unit five or 10 years from now." Across the state line, the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center suspended new admissions in May and may need to shut down permanently. Part of the reason: the financial strain from treating meth-lab burn patients.
In a third story, Chicago Bureau Chief Dirk Johnson talks to members of a support group in Ottumwa, Iowa, called Moms Off Meth, which is devoted to helping mothers recover from meth addiction and, often, help them fight to regain custody of their children. There are now 16 chapters across Iowa, a state that is one of the hardest hit by the drug. A Dads Off Meth group has also recently started there. The groups help the recovering addicts deal with a sense of shame that can be pronounced in small towns, as well as cope with the nightmares of severe neglect and abuse endured by their children.
-------------------- Acid doesn't give you truths; it builds machines that push the envelope of perception. Whatever revelations came to me then have dissolved like skywriting. All I really know is that those few years saddled me with a faith in the redemptive potential of the imagination which, however flat, stale and unprofitable the world seems to me now, I cannot for the life of me shake.