Methamphetamine seen as worst drug problem

Officials across country urge U.S. to deal with it


Local officials from across the country declared yesterday that methamphetamine is the nation's leading law-enforcement scourge - a more insidious drug problem than cocaine - blaming it for crowding jails and fueling increases in theft and violence, as well as a host of social welfare problems.

Officials from the National Association of Counties, releasing results from a survey of 500 local officials nationwide, argued that Washington's focus on terrorism and homeland security had diverted money and attention from the methamphetamine problem in the United States.

They pleaded with lawmakers to restore financing for an $804 million drug-fighting program that the group said had been proposed for elimination in the 2006 federal budget, and said the Bush administration had focused its drug-fighting efforts too much on marijuana and not enough on methamphetamine.

"This is a national problem that requires national leadership," Angelo Kyle, the president of the association and a member of the board of commissioners in Lake County, Ill., north of Chicago, said at a news conference in Washington that was called to draw attention to the methamphetamine problem.

While methamphetamine has begun to move into some cities, it has particularly devastated rural areas in the past several years. It is cheap and easy to make, using chemicals commonly found in cold medicine or on farms, and makeshift production labs have sprung up in barns and houses, far from police patrols.

The ingredients are highly toxic and highly flammable, often resulting in serious explosions. And the drug itself, which is smoked, inhaled or injected, is extremely addictive, producing a high that lasts several hours and leading to binges that often last days or weeks.

Of 500 law-enforcement agencies in 45 states that responded to the survey, 87 percent reported increases in methamphetamine-related arrests in the past three years, and 62 percent reported increases in lab seizures.

Fifty-eight percent said that methamphetamine was their largest drug problem. Nineteen percent said cocaine was the largest drug problem, 17 percent said marijuana and 3 percent said heroin.

The problem is seen as particularly bad in the Southwest, where 76 percent of counties surveyed said methamphetamine was their largest drug problem.

The crimes associated with methamphetamines go well beyond selling and using: 70 percent of counties reported increases in robberies and burglaries because of methamphetamine; 62 percent reported increases in domestic violence; 53 percent reported an increase in assaults; and 27 reported an increase in identity theft.

Half the counties surveyed said that one in five inmates are in jail because of methamphetamine-related crimes. Many counties reported that more than half their jail populations are incarcerated because of the drug.

The officials said reports of child abuse have increased as well, with many children neglected while their parents binge and then sleep off the high for several days.

Many states have set up procedures to decontaminate children when they are removed from homes where methamphetamine has been produced or used, and several states have moved to restrict the sales of cold medicines such as Sudafed that contain the raw ingredients for methamphetamine.

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