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Quote: Methamphetamine accounts for more emergency room visits than any other drug, a survey released today by the National Association of Counties finds.
The survey of 200 hospitals run or funded by counties in 39 states and Washington, D.C., shows that 47% said methamphetamine is the top illicit drug involved in emergency room visits. Sixteen percent said marijuana, and 15% said cocaine.
"This is a national problem," association spokesman Tom Goodman says. "The costs of methamphetamine are placing a great strain on county governments."
Of the hospitals surveyed, 73% said emergency room cases involving meth have increased over the past five years, and 56% said hospital costs have risen because of the treatment of meth patients.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked or swallowed. Most methamphetamine is manufactured in Mexican labs and smuggled into the USA. The drug also can be cooked up in home labs using cold pills and other ingredients easily purchased.
Nearly 12 million people in the USA have used meth at least once in their lives, according to responses to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.4 million had used meth in the past year.
A separate survey by the counties' association of 200 state and county treatment program directors in 35 states and the District of Columbia found that 69% reported an increased number of people seeking treatment for meth use.
The problem appears to be particularly acute in the Midwest, where meth's path of destruction in rural communities is well documented. In Nebraska, for example, nearly every hospital surveyed said up to 10% of emergency room cases involved meth.
Bill Hansell, president of the National Association of Counties and a county commissioner in Umatilla County, Ore., says meth abuse can damage an entire community. Umatilla, a rural county 200 miles east of Portland, makes up 2% of the state's population but accounted for nearly a quarter of meth lab seizures last year.
Hansell says local governments pay to clean up toxic waste left by home meth labs, to care for the neglected children of addicts, and to provide treatment.
In September, the White House drug czar's office named Umatilla a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area entitled to federal funds. Tom Riley, the drug czar spokesman, says grants and vouchers are offered to communities with drug problems. "We are tailoring programs to be responsive to local needs," he says. "In some parts of the country, meth is a burning program. In other areas, mercifully not. And we think we're meeting with some success with this approach."