U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) have taken steps to stop the creation, distribution and use of methamphetamine, now the second most-treated drug addiction among Oregon teens.
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Wyden and Smith joined U.S. Senators Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to unveil the "Combat Meth Act." The legislation would provide resources and tools to help law enforcement officials and prosecutors to pursue and punish producers and distributors of meth, increase community awareness of the meth problem, and establish new treatment options. The Oregon Department of Human Services has reported that meth use is the biggest drug problem facing Oregon child welfare today.
Local law enforcement officials were encouraged by the news.
"It's about time," said Prineville Police Chief Eric Bush. "The meth problem has been growing in Central Oregon for the last 10 years."
He referred to the recent police seizure of 5.5 pounds of meth, and said that in 1996 he seized more than 5.5 pounds when he was a narcotics investigator in Crook County.
Bush said meth use and abuse is connected to 80 to 90 percent of the crime "we see in our community."
"Working narcotics is a very resource and a very labor intensive proposition and until we as a community and as a state are willing to pony up the resources to fight this problem, all we're going to do is tread water," Bush said. "We aren't making any headway with the meth problem because we simply don't have the resources."
"I worked narcotics for about six years and if I'd wanted to, I could have worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but obviously that wasn't an option," the chief said.
Speaking of the legislation, Bush said "it sounds like a pretty global response to the meth problem."
Bush used the analogy of a three-legged stool. One leg is for enforcement, another is for education and a third is for treatment. In Bush's opinion, court-ordered treatment, by and large, is unsuccessful because unless people want treatment, it's a waste of time and money.
"There has been some success in those programs," Bush said, but the success is from those who truly want the treatment and not those who are forced into it.
Crook County District Attorney Gary Williams was hopeful about the legislation.
"I hope that Congress passes the bill," Williams said. "Methamphetamine is one of the major problems in our community here. It is tied in with many, if not most, of our child abuse and neglect cases. And it is tied in to many of our adult criminal cases. Possession and distribution of methamphetamine is our most common drug charge in Crook County and the cost to the taxpayers in terms of police, prosecution, the courts, community corrections, the jail and court-appointed lawyers is outrageously high. It also adversely affects the quality of life in our community. So any help we can get would be greatly welcomed."
"The lethal and growing meth problem ruins thousands of young lives each year, and this legislation aims to give our communities the appropriate tools to stop the epidemic," said Wyden. "I am committed to continuing to work with Senator Smith and others to attack the growing meth problem in Oregon."
"Meth is a horrifying and corrosive presence in Oregon communities," Smith said. "This bill sends desperately needed resources for law enforcement and treatment - the most critical fronts in the war against meth."
Methamphetamine is one of the most deadly, fiercely addictive and rapidly spreading drugs in the United States. During the past decade, while law enforcement officers continue to close record numbers of clandestine labs, methamphetamine use in communities has increased by as much as 300 percent. The Combat Meth Act makes critical funding available to states, including Oregon, for equipment, training for law enforcement agents and prosecutors to bring legal action against meth offenders and clean-up meth labs. It also provides treatment grants for those affected by this dangerous drug.
Specifically, the legislation does the following:
ú Provides an additional $15 million under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program to train state and local law enforcement to investigate and lock up methamphetamine offenders, and to expand the methamphetamine "hot spots" program to include personnel and equipment for enforcement, prosecution and environmental clean-up.
ú Provides $5 million to hire additional federal prosecutors and train local prosecutors in state and federal meth laws and cross-designate them as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, allowing them to bring legal action against "meth cooks" and traffickers in federal courts under tougher guidelines.
ú Amends the Controlled Substances Act to appropriately limit and record the sale of medicines containing pseudoephedrine by placing them behind the pharmacy counter.
ú Provides $5 million for states and businesses that legally sell ingredients used to cook meth, to help monitor purchases of methamphetamine precursors (pseudoephedrine) and to provide training expenses and technical assistance for law enforcement personnel and employees of businesses which lawfully sell substances which may be used to make meth.
ú Provides $5 million in grant funding for "Drug-Endangered Children rapid response teams" to promote collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies to assist and educate children who have been affected by the production of methamphetamine. In 2002, 109 children were removed from Oregon homes with meth labs; 42 percent of them were ages 6 or younger. About 50 percent of the children taken out of meth labs test positive for meth themselves.
ú Authorizes the creation of a Methamphetamine Research, Training and Technical Assistance Center that will research effective treatments for meth abuse and disseminate information and technical assistance to states and private entities on how to improve current treatment methods.
The Combat Meth Act is expected to be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.