Methamphetamine epidemic rages on
Despite recent publicity about the dangers of methamphetamine and the implementation of precursor laws that regulate the sale of the drug’s raw ingredients, meth abuse remains a national epidemic, according to a new survey released by the Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo). The problem is straining local law enforcement budgets, and NACo is calling for more federal action to help locals combat the problem.
NACo commissioned the survey, “The Methamphetamine Epidemic: The Changing Demographics of Methamphetamine,” to assess the effectiveness of precursor laws and how increased public awareness campaigns have changed the manufacture, acquisition and use of the drug. The survey was completed in July and includes data from 500 county law enforcement officials in 44 states.
The results from six previous NACo surveys on meth use conducted over the last two years have found that the drug is responsible for an increase in children removed from their homes by social services. County public hospital emergency rooms also treat more meth-related problems than any other illegal drugs, showing the growing need for meth treatment.
Overall, 80 percent of counties surveyed this year said that meth abuse has not decreased in the last year. Forty-seven percent said that meth remains their No. 1 illegal drug problem despite the growing number of precursor local and state laws that have been enacted since 2003. The laws limit the purchase of large quantities of meth ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine, which also are found in over-the-counter cold medicines.
While 50 percent of survey respondents said that meth use has stayed the same and 30 percent report increases, 81 percent said that new precursor laws have helped to reduce the ability of abusers to manufacture meth in crude and toxic meth labs. At the same time, however, imports of the drug have increased, and so have the costs of fighting the drug. “Apart from the personal tragedies of meth abuse, counties have been forced to divert scarce tax dollars to address meth lab cleanups, jails overcrowded with individuals arrested for meth-related crimes, and rescuing innocent children from their meth-addicted parents and bringing them into the social services system,” says NACo President and Oakland County, Mich., Commissioner Eric Coleman.
In 2004, taxpayers in Stearns County, Minn., paid $1.5 million for direct law enforcement costs to fight meth. Indiana counties spent close to $100 million combating meth production and abuse during the same year. And, a study that year by Eugene, Ore.-based ECONorthwest found that meth abuse cost taxpayers in Multnomah County, Ore., more than $102 million. That figure includes the costs of property crimes, fires, incremental foster care, meth lab cleanups and health care.
Sheriff Patrick Hedges, San Luis Obispo County, Calif., says meth abuse forces law enforcement agencies to alter personnel priorities and budgets. “Due to the increased impact of meth use in California, the state added $20 million to its budget for a statewide meth enforcement initiative,” Hedges said in a July 2006 speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “Crime and death directly related to meth use continues to increase.”
As a result, NACo is calling on Congress to pass the Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act, which would set up a research program for remediation of closed meth production laboratories; the Methamphetamine Production Prevention Act, which would establish a grant program to facilitate the creation of electronic systems to track the sale of precursors; and the CLEAN-UP of Methamphetamine Act, which would authorize federal agency response to environmental hazards from illegal manufacture of meth on public lands and create grant programs to assist state and local governments in cleaning up toxic meth labs.
NACo contracted with Washington-based National Research to conduct the survey, which is available at www.naco.org.
— Jim Philipps is NACo’s media relations manager.