Bush aides announce anti-meth initiatives

Members of Congress complain about lack of funding, new ideas

August 19, 2005|By Steven Bodzin | Steven Bodzin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - In an apparent response to congressional charges that it was ignoring methamphetamine abuse, three high-level Bush administration officials went to a Tennessee drug court yesterday to offer "innovative solutions" to combat a problem that has spread rapidly across the country.

"The scourge of methamphetamine demands unconventional thinking and innovative solutions to fight the devastation it leaves behind," said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. "I have directed U.S. attorneys to make prosecution of methamphetamine-related crimes a top priority and seek the harshest penalties."

Gonzales was joined in Nashville by the director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, John Walters, and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to announce $1 million for anti-meth ads, $16.2 million over three years for treatment grants and a new Web site, www.MethResources.gov, which offers information about the drug.

But members of Congress, who have complained that their constituents are demanding more action against users of the drug, said the modest measures announced yesterday were far too little and possibly too late.

Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, leads a House Government Reform subcommittee that authorizes legislation involving drug control efforts. He has held repeated hearings criticizing the administration for not taking strong enough measures to fight meth.

"We're looking for a scream, not a peep," he said. "This proposal, unfortunately, doesn't have anything new in it. At my last hearing they waved a report with a list of recommendations, and this was all in it."

Rep. Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat and clinical psychologist who worked in drug treatment programs before his election to Congress, said he was happy to see the administration break its focus on marijuana. "On the rhetoric front, over the last four to five years, they have said very little about meth," he said.

The administration has repeatedly put forward statistics showing that the numbers of drug lab busts, high school students using the drug, and interdictions of drugs that can be used to make meth were all on the decline. Walters said last month that there was no meth epidemic, though he did point out yesterday that the drug poses "unique" problems.

But Baird said the change of rhetoric would offer little comfort to either local law enforcement or treatment programs, whose federal aid has been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

This year, the administration wanted to cut more than $1 billion from assistance to local police forces, but bipartisan votes restored $360 million.

"You have to ask how they can take credit" for the reduced use of meth among high-school students "when they've proposed cutting those very programs," Baird said.

Richard Rawson, associate director of the Integrated Substance Abuse Programs at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute, had praise for the anti-meth advertisements.

"There have been no efforts to educate the public about the dangers of meth," he said. "In California and around the rest of the country, that could be very helpful. In schools, there have been no meth-related materials."

But Souder lambasted the proposal to shift $1 million into anti-meth ads as a meaningless token. "A million is nothing," he said. "It might [cover] Kansas, Nebraska and maybe Kentucky, but the House already passed $25 million for meth in the upcoming appropriations bill."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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