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Counties Want Federal Help to Fight 'Meth'

Survey Says Most Local Law Enforcement Agencies See Methamphetamines as No. 1 Drug Problem
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WebMD Health News

July 5, 2005 -- An organization representing local officials said Tuesday that the White House is not paying enough attention to a growing methamphetamine epidemic.

The localities say they need more help from the federal government to combat methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive stimulant that has spread throughout the country through distribution from home laboratories.

Fifty-eight percent of local law enforcement agencies in a National Association of Counties (NACo) survey released Tuesday call methamphetamine their most serious drug problem. Cocaine is named the No. 1 problem by 19%, while marijuana is named by 17%.

Marijuana Policy vs. Methamphetamine Policy

But the organization was critical of President Bush's drug policy, which has focused heavily on preventing marijuana use in children and adolescents. The strategy includes widespread media campaigns against marijuana and a focus on school-based drug testing.

The administration should focus on methamphetamine "as much as they do marijuana," Larry E. Naake, the group's executive director, told reporters.

"We think that there now is an epidemic that needs to get their attention," he said.

"Our message to the administration is that there is also an additional drug epidemic that is occurring in this country," said Angelo D. Kyle, the NACo president and a county board member from Lake County, Ill.

Officials complained that the rising use of methamphetamine - also known as "meth" -- is increasingly responsible for child neglect cases and arrests for domestic violence. Overdoses with the drug, as well as poisonings and burn injuries from manufacturing labs, are putting increased pressure on rural and county hospitals, they say.

Forty percent of 303 counties in 13 states surveyed by the group reported an increase in neglected children placed outside the home by child welfare departments because of methamphetamine use.

The 2006 federal budget cuts $804 million in federal grants that localities used to police methamphetamines and other drugs. The White House budget states that the funds, called the Justice Assistance Program, "do not have a record of demonstrating results."

"It's causing us a tremendous problem," Naake said of the cuts. The group wants Congress to spend more money on methamphetamine law enforcement and treatment programs for localities.

White House Reaction

Jennifer DeVallance, White House Office of Drug Control Policy spokeswoman, tells WebMD that the administration's focus on marijuana is "fair and appropriate." The U.S. currently has 15 million regular marijuana users but only 1 million methamphetamine users, she says.

"You hear the word 'epidemic' thrown around quite a bit when you're talking about meth. This is a major and significant problem, but it is not one that is out of control and it is not one that can't be contained," DeVallance says.

In a 2003 survey conducted for the federal government by the University of Michigan, nearly 6% of college students and 9% of adults aged 19-26 reported using methamphetamines at least once during their lifetimes. The use of methamphetamines by middle school and high school students dropped by 24%, according to federal figures.

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