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Meth fight must go to the source

Methamphetamine, a most addictive and destructive substance, is no longer flowing out of a meth lab located in a home next door or a building down the street. Instead, it is streaming across the U.S.-Mexican border and into the Portland area in seemingly greater quantities than before.

One possible response to this trend might be for citizens to throw up their hands and say that all of Oregon's efforts to control methamphetamine have been for naught - that it is futile to try to stamp out this scourge.

That would be exactly the wrong reaction.

Rather, the latest news about meth should be viewed as evidence that a focused and collaborative approach by citizens, legislators and law-enforcement officers can make an appreciable difference in the war against meth.

Imported meth now the problem

An article in the Portland Tribune last week detailed the shift that has occurred in meth trafficking over the past two years. It was in 2005 that state legislators passed a law making it more difficult to obtain cold medicines that contain the main ingredient used to manufacture meth.

By at least one measure, the law has been a spectacular success - the number of meth-lab busts, once a daily occurrence, has plummeted in Oregon to a mere 14 this year.

But the progress hasn't been without unwelcome consequences. Now that meth isn't available from local labs, Mexican drug cartels have stepped in to increase supplies. And Portland area law-enforcement officers say that as much methamphetamine, possibly even more, is available now.

No one can argue that eliminating the labs was a bad thing.

Fewer labs mean the toxic chemicals used by meth cooks threaten fewer neighbors. Fewer meth labs means fewer children are growing up abused and neglected within homes where manufacturing a drug was the only thing on their parents' minds.

But no one should be lulled into thinking that the human costs of meth addiction have disappeared. The drug still is creating new addicts each day at a great cost to individual users and society as a whole.

Additional action can be taken

That's why it's important that one victory - the virtual elimination of labs in Oregon - must lead to a new round of action. It's a fallacy to believe that nothing can be done to stop imported meth.

Even now, U.S. pressure on the Mexican government to crack down on meth is having an effect: Prices of imported meth are up, and purity is down. Oregon's congressional delegation must insist that the pressure on Mexico remains unrelenting.

Similarly, the Oregon Legislature must revisit the issue and determine how the state can combat imported meth. Lawmakers already have increased Oregon State Police staffing - an agency that ought to be involved in interrupting the transportation of meth into Oregon.

But surely the most effective tool against imported meth would be to decrease demand. And that's where all citizens, especially parents, can help by knowing the warning signs of meth use and by supporting community-based education and treatment programs.

On Friday, many groups working against meth are marking, for the second year, what they call Methamphetamine Awareness Day. It is a timely reminder that despite progress in the war against meth, too many lives still are being stolen by this terrible addiction.