#269 Educate USA TODAY About Meth Epidemic

Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003
Subject: #269 Educate USA TODAY About Meth Epidemic


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #269 Thur, 31 July 2003

On Wednesday, July 30, USA Today devoted its largest section of the
paper – the front section Cover Story – to a summary of how
methamphetamine labs are no longer just a problem west of the
Mississippi River. Using information and quotes provided solely by
law enforcement and conveniently concerned politicians, the
multi-colored daily demonstrated how meth labs can now be found from
coast to coast.

Not a single quote was attributed to anyone who might propose or
discuss alternatives to the current drug war strategy. The article
almost glamorized the front line police officers who not only have
increased lab seizures by over eleven times in the past eight years
(over 9000 compared to just 800 in the year 1995). Nowhere was there
any questions asking why this black market industry has increased by
over 1000% during that time period.

USA Today has heretofore demonstrated a very good grasp of the
problems related to drug prohibition, most notably the laws against
medical marijuana use. However, this lengthy piece on methamphetamine
could use some alternative comments and suggestions through Letter to
the Editor feedback as to why we have the problem and what we might be
able to do that would help to reduce it.

Please consider writing a letter to USA Today today! Due to their high
readership a letter they print may be one of the most valuable if
viewed in terms of comparative advertising dollars to run a commercial
ad of the same size.

Thanks for your effort and support.

It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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With an average circulation of 2.3 million copies, and an estimated
readership, including both print copies and on line readership, of 6.8
million, any letters to the editor published by USA TODAY on our issue
have a very significant reach.

The average published letter is about 140 words in length. But about
one in five is between 200 and 250 words and the large majority
average in the 100 word range. It does seem to help to sound like an
expert, providing a title, or organization title or affiliation in
your signature block.



Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jul 2003
Source: USA Today (US)
Page: Cover Story
Webpage: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-07-29-meth-cover_x.htm
Copyright: 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Contact: editor@usatoday.com
Website: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nfront.htm
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/466
Author: Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/meth.htm (Methamphetamine)


Methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that for years was a
concern in a few Western states, now is being made nationwide in
clandestine labs that are creating environmental hazards and other
problems in residential areas.

California, where methamphetamine first became popular as a
recreational drug in the late 1980s, continues to be the state hit
hardest by “meth,” or “speed.” In the 12 months that ended Sept. 30,
authorities raided 1,262 meth labs in California, more than double the
total from the same period seven years earlier.

Now, authorities are finding meth labs in new places: neighborhoods
throughout the Midwest and the East, where labs packed with the toxic
chemicals used to make the drug have been found in apartment
buildings, duplexes and abandoned buses. In Tennessee, two siblings
recently set up a lab in their grandmother’s retirement-home apartment
while she was in the hospital.

“It looks almost like a wildfire moving east,” says Dan Salter, an
agent at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s training academy
in Quantico, Va. Salter teaches law enforcement officers how to
recognize and shut down meth labs, which can emit harmful fumes and
must be dismantled carefully to avoid chemical explosions.

Since the mid-1990s, meth has become particularly popular among young
adults and teenagers seeking cheaper alternatives to cocaine, heroin
and marijuana. Those drugs usually have attracted more attention from
law enforcement.

Meth costs $5 to $15 a dose. It can be made into a pill, a liquid that
can be injected, a powder that can be snorted or a clumpy or rock-like
crystal whose fumes can be inhaled. It is a mix of chemicals found in
household products and fertilizers, and in over-the-counter medicines.

Methamphetamine’s move east has been driven in part, authorities say,
by the availability of recipes on Web sites that describe ways to cook
chemicals to make the drug.

Missouri, because of its central location and rural landscape where
labs can be hidden easily, has become the second front in what
officials describe as an explosion of meth use across America.

In fiscal 2002, local police and U.S. agents shut down 1,039 labs in
Missouri, 321 in Illinois, 89 in Florida and 85 in Georgia. Seven
years earlier, officials had reported finding 29 labs in Missouri and
two each in Illinois, Florida and Georgia.

Meth has left a trail of addiction in many areas and has led some
officials to take action:

Oklahoma City officials have created an “endangered children’s”
program that gives medical care and other help to kids who are found
living in homes that have been turned into meth labs by their addicted
parents. Continued exposure to toxic fumes from such labs can cause
fatal burns to the lungs, damage the liver and spleen, and lead to
learning disabilities, health specialists say.

Last year, Oklahoma City officials put 23 children who were found in
meth labs into protective custody at a center for abused children.
Twenty-two tested positive for exposure to toxic chemicals.

In Cookeville, Tenn., about 80 miles east of Nashville, the City
Council last month passed an ordinance that bans drug stores from
selling a customer more than 100 tablets of the decongestant
pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in meth recipes. The law also
requires businesses to keep non-prescription forms of pseudoephedrine
behind the counter or within 6 feet of the cash register, and it
requires purchasers to sign a register.

“The methamphetamine problem here is terrible,” says Ricky Shelton, a
Cookeville council member who proposed the measure. “There are
children in foster care, people dying, chemicals in the

He said 54 children in a four-county area that includes Cookeville
have been put in foster care during the past two years because their
parents were caught cooking meth in their homes.

Georgia has imposed similar limits on pseudoephedrine purchases.
Several cities across the nation are considering such laws.

Illinois, which borders Missouri but has had fewer problems with
methamphetamine, has begun issuing bulletins to farmers and fertilizer
suppliers urging them to guard anhydrous ammonia. The chemical
compound is used mostly as a fertilizer but also is a key ingredient
in meth.

Illegal drug makers in Illinois and elsewhere have stolen anhydrous
ammonia, which is stored as a liquid in pressurized tanks but becomes
a toxic gas when released. Inhaling the ammonia can cause fatal damage
to the lungs, says Bob Aherin, an agricultural safety professor at the
University of Illinois.

“Drug users trying to make meth can be a danger to themselves and
others,” Aherin says. When they break a hose or a valve while trying
to siphon the liquid, he says, anyone downwind can be harmed if the
chemical is released.

Two years ago, Indiana’s Legislature made it a felony to dump waste
from controlled substances, largely because of concerns about
pollution from these meth labs.

Chemicals from labs have been dumped in streams and in wooded areas,
where the chemicals have seeped into the soil and contaminated water

Meth cooks, trying to avoid cops, often leave behind harmful chemicals
or residue. A meth producer might check into a motel, cook a batch and
leave the next day, the DEA’s Salter says. “Then someone (else) checks
in, and the kids crawl on the carpet and get burned from the chemicals.”

Easy to get, simple to make

Methamphetamine stimulates the central nervous system. After feeling
an initial rush and a sense of well-being, people on meth may be
hyperactive, lose their appetites and be unable to sleep. The effects
can last up to eight hours.

The drug is simple to make, requiring easy-to-get ingredients and
rudimentary chemistry. When police find a meth lab, they don chemical
suits and gas masks to protect themselves from fumes.

DEA officials estimate that for each pound of meth produced, a lab
operator winds up with 6 pounds of toxic waste, including leftover
chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia and lye, and solid meth residue.

Cleaning up a lab costs an average of $3,280, the DEA says. It usually
involves removing debris, testing soil and neutralizing chemicals.
Larger labs have cost up to $100,000 to shut down. Most of the money
goes to local cleanup companies through federal grants. Cleaning up
meth labs cost the U.S. government about $24 million in 2002, the DEA

In fiscal 2002, the DEA reported more than 9,000 lab raids, up from
just more than 800 in 1995.

“Methamphetamine is on a bigger scale than ever before,” says Sheriff
Lane Carter of Moore County in central North Carolina, which recently
increased its narcotics unit from two to five people because of the
local meth problem. “It’s cheap to make. It doesn’t have to be
transported across the (U.S.) border.”

Meth began popping up in North Carolina about two years ago, officials
there say. Last year, 34 labs were found in the state.

This year, “we’re at a pace that will double” that, says Dave Gaddis,
the DEA’s assistant special agent in charge for North Carolina. “It
started in the western part of the state, and it’s migrating east.”

Some clever, some desperate

This summer, signs of the rising demand for meth have been
particularly evident in Tennessee.

Within 48 hours last month, authorities in rural Anderson County,
about 30 miles north of Knoxville, shut down three labs. The third
bust was the county’s 22nd of the year. Through June 3, Tennessee
officials had shut down 305 labs. In all of last year, there were 387
lab raids in Tennessee.

The Anderson County busts, in which four people were arrested on drug
charges, reflected the various methods — some clever, some desperate
— that lab operators use. Many operators, authorities say, are
addicts who make and sell the drug to feed their habits.

One of the cases involved a local retirement home, where two
grandchildren of a resident set up a lab while she was in the
hospital. The woman’s neighbors knew about the lab but were too
terrified to report it, Chief Deputy Sheriff Lewis Ridenour says.

In another case, a suspect allegedly ran a lab from his car’s trunk.
Deputies closed a road for 17 hours while the chemicals were removed.
Another bust occurred in a duplex near eight other homes.

“It’s a huge health hazard,” Ridenour says. Labs “can explode. A
child, or anyone, can come in contact with toxic materials.”

While law enforcement officers raid labs, anti-drug groups and
government officials taken aback by meth’s impact are focusing on
prevention. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is testing a
campaign in Missouri and Phoenix that warns of the dangers of using
meth. In commercials, doctors describe the risks meth can pose to
users and their kids.

Illinois lawmakers passed two anti-meth laws in May. One allows judges
to double the maximum sentence and fine for those convicted of meth
crimes done in the presence of children. The other requires convicted
meth makers and users to pay for cleanups.

Because of Illinois’ advisories on ammonia, many fertilizer dealers
have built fences and installed motion detectors around their tanks,
Aherin says. Some have placed locks on the tanks’ valves.

Officials in Illinois have asked retailers to put medicines containing
pseudoephedrine behind the counter and to limit the number of packages
per customer. Illinois retailers aren’t required to do so, but “we
have found a great willingness from the Wal-Marts and Kmarts and
Walgreen’s and 7-Elevens” to cooperate, Illinois Attorney General Lisa
Madigan says. “People are beginning to realize how dangerous meth is.”

There has been some opposition to limiting consumers’ access to
pseudoephedrine, which is in Sudafed and other popular medicines. In
Tennessee, a plan similar to Cookesville’s failed in the Legislature
last month. Retail groups have led the resistance.

“I’m not convinced that limiting consumer access is the best way to
combat the problem,” says Nancy Bukar of the Consumer Healthcare
Products Association, which represents makers and suppliers of
over-the-counter medicines.

Purchase limits merely inconvenience legitimate consumers, she says,
adding that those bent on finding meth ingredients go from store to
store collecting packages, a practice authorities call “smurfing.”

Meanwhile, officials are seeing more “ice,” the potent form of meth
that resembles rock salt. “It’s akin to crack,” says Mike Furgason,
special agent in charge of the DEA’s Atlanta division, which includes
Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. “They are breeding a more
addicted customer.”



To the editors of USA Today:

Your coverage on the epidemic of illegal methamphetamine labs
spreading from coast to coast left two key questions unanswered.

The first is what motivates meth manufacturers to set up laboratories
given the physical dangers of creating meth and also considering the
harsh legal penalties if caught and convicted in court. It seems
obvious the answer lies in the obscene profits drug prohibition laws
generate. Meth labs today bring to mind the ‘bathtub gin’ makers
which operated outside regulated control during the 1920s Prohibition
against alcohol distribution.

More important though is why a relatively tiny portion of our
population feels the need to ingest such unregulated and dangerous
substances. The DEA can up their lab seizures and arrests by another
ten times during the next eight years and yet not a single meth addict
or abuser will be any closer to true health and recovery.


Stephen Heath
Clearwater FL

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