The latest drug war

July 15, 2005

JUST AS crack took a destructive march through inner cities in the 1980s and 1990s, methamphetamine is having an increasingly devastating effect on rural families and communities, while also creeping slowly into cities. In a recently released survey by the National Association of Counties, 58 percent of local law enforcement officials said that methamphetamine outstripped cocaine, heroin and marijuana as their largest drug problem. In the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest, at least 75 percent of counties ranked it as the worst drug problem.

Yet the Bush administration has been more focused on marijuana because it is used by many more people. That may be true, but the administration and Congress should not try to cut funds from a drug-fighting program that can help rural law enforcement officials go after meth users.

Methamphetamine is so dangerous, in part, because it can be made cheaply and easily from pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in many common cold remedies and in fertilizers. Makeshift labs have been set up in barns and houses in rural areas, often a good distance from the watchful eyes of police. But meth components are very toxic and flammable, and many labs have had serious fires and explosions. In addition, the drug itself is highly addictive, whether smoked, inhaled or injected. It produces cravings, including sexual cravings, and binges that can cause parents to abuse their children or, at the least, to neglect them for hours, even days, at a time.

Nationwide, 40 percent of child welfare officials reported an increase in the number of children placed in foster care, and some states, such as California, Colorado and North Dakota, have seen at least a 50 percent increase in the number of children removed from their homes. County officials surveyed also blamed meth for significant increases in robberies, burglaries, assaults and domestic violence.

Such harmful results make it imperative to mount a more coordinated attack against this growing threat.

Congress should maintain the $800 million federal Justice Assistance Program - threatened with elimination in the 2006 budget - or an equivalent program that would help finance drug enforcement efforts among different jurisdictions. Rural officials need to be able to work together to stop this spreading scourge.

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